Watchdog wants probe of Google’s ‘unusually close’ ties to Obama

Watchdog wants probe of Google’s ‘unusually close’ ties to Obama

By Sara Jerome – 11/09/10 04:24 PM ET

As House Republicans plan an ambitious oversight agenda for the next session of Congress, a watchdog group is calling for a probe into a company that it says is far too cozy with the Obama administration: Google.

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a group that advocates for a smaller and more ethical government, wrote to leaders of the House Oversight Committee this month urging them to investigate a major privacy breach by Google. It wants to know if the company’s ties to the administration helped it dodge penalties after the incident.

The group also urges a look at Google’s ties to the administration more generally, pointing to what it calls “a growing body of evidence” that shows the administration’s “unusually close relationship with Google has resulted in favoritism towards the company on federal policy issues.”

“Like Halliburton in the previous administration, Google has an exceptionally close relationship with the current administration,” the letter says.

The NLPC letter encourages House Oversight Chairman Edolphus Towns (N.Y) and ranking member Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) to pick up where it believes federal regulators fell short in investigating Google’s Wi-Fi privacy breach.

After Google admitted last month that it collected and stored private user information, including passwords and entire e-mails, from Wi-Fi networks, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) closed an inquiry into the issue, citing promises from the company that it would improve its privacy practices.

But NLPC alleges that Google’s political clout might be the real reason the FTC dropped the probe.

“There is another deeply disturbing aspect to the FTC’s decision,” Kenneth Boehm, the NLPC chairman, writes in the letter to Capitol Hill. “Less than a week before Google’s announcement, President Obama went to the home of Google executive Marissa Mayer for a $30,000-per-person Democratic Party fundraiser.”

Boehm calls for the House to “conduct a fair and dispassionate investigation as to any linkage in these three events: the fundraiser, Google’s disclosure and the FTC’s action.”

He cites instances where the FTC may have been tougher on other companies, including Twitter, Sears and CVS, which were fined for privacy breaches in the last two years.

Boehm mounted six pages of evidence arguing that Google is too close to the Obama administration, including the fact that Andrew McLaughlin, a former Google employee, is now the U.S. deputy chief technology officer.

“The FTC’s decision to close its investigation into Google’s unauthorized gathering of private data through its Google Street View program is troubling enough. But looked at in the context of this Administration’s extraordinarily close relationship with Google, no fair-minded person could look at the record so far and not believe that further investigation is warranted,” the letter says.

Google has apologized for the privacy breach, saying it collected the private data by accident. That claim has prompted skepticism from privacy advocates and at least one lawmaker. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last week that he thought Google’s actions were intentional. He said he would likely investigate Google’s Wi-Fi breach if he were to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a position he is campaigning for.

Issa, who has promised a thorough investigative agenda when he ascends to the top of the House Oversight Committee, has previously worked to shed light on ties between Google and the administration.

GOOGLE FRANKENSTEIN: MACHINES TO CHOOSE YOUR NEWS

GOOGLE FRANKENSTEIN: MACHINES TO CHOOSE YOUR NEWS
Mon Apr 12 2010 08:15:34 ET

GOOGLE CEO and Obama political activist Eric Schmidt declared this weekend that his machines will help decide what news you receive!

News sites should use technology to PREDICT what a user wants to read by what they have already read, Schmidt told the AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWS EDITORS, where a few humans still remained in the audience.

“We’re all in this together.”

MORE

Schmidt said he doesn’t want ‘to be treated as a stranger’ when reading online.

He envisions a future where technology for news editing could help tailor advertisements for individual readers.

And he wants to be challenged through technology that ‘directs readers’ to a story with an ‘opposing’ view.

[An odd suggestion from the CEO of a company long accused of offering little to no conservative-leaning links on its news page, while aggressively promoting left-leaning hubs.]

Schmidt said GOOGLE is working on new ways to push adverts and content for consumers, based on what stories they’ve read.

What stories his machines have selected.

Developing…

Google – from friend to foe?

Google – from friend to foe?

James Temple, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, December 7, 2009

Two bright young men transformed an idea into the era’s dominant technology company by outmaneuvering lumbering giants in the field. As the upstart blossomed into a titan in its own right, its behavior sparked allegations of monopolistic practices and drew the eye of the Justice Department.

If it were late 1999, this would be a story about Microsoft Corp. A decade later, it’s a strikingly similar tale about Google.

The Mountain View Internet company built a $100 billion brand and seized control of the search industry by delivering superior tools and convincing the world it took its “Don’t Be Evil” motto seriously.

But as the company extends its influence in advertising, media, mobile and dozens of other areas, that perception is increasingly called into question.

The most fervent have dubbed it “the new Evil Empire.” Others say it’s simply becoming another big company focused on the bottom line. Either is a change for a company that cultivated a reputation for trying to improve the world.

“The perception has shifted dramatically,” said Rob Enderle, technology analyst with the Enderle Group. “Google has become incredibly heavy-handed.”

Some insist the charges are overblown, arguing the company is just another in a long list that drew outsized scrutiny as it grew dominant.

“It gets disproportionate blame because it’s disproportionately successful,” said Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do.”

Most valuable brand

He added that rankings of corporate reputation consistently put Google near the top. Indeed, this year Fortune rated the company the fourth most admired, and Millward Brown Optimor listed it as the world’s most valuable brand.

But some observers say Google is exacerbating the tendency to distrust large corporations by failing to recognize how its actions will be perceived – or failing to care.

Google Books is a prime example, Enderle said. It’s an open debate whether the plan to scan millions of books and make them searchable online will prove the benefit to humanity that Google promises – or hand it a monopoly over certain digital works, as opponents allege.

But the consensus is the company fomented an avoidable backlash by forging ahead with its controversial plan without consulting the parties with the most at stake. Authors and publishers responded with lawsuits alleging copyright infringement.

Google “had the power to do it and so thought ‘why not?’ ” Enderle said. “That’s the core of how a company goes from being seen as friendly to being seen as evil.”

The initial proposed settlement raised antitrust concerns at the Justice Department, which along with a chorus of criticism from libraries, academics and competitors forced a redrafting of the deal.

Another growing concern is that, as Google has expanded into new businesses, it has arguably contradicted certain founding principles.

The Google search engine was designed as a neutral system that ranked results based only on relevance. The company still proclaims: “We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results.”

No disclosure

A search for Black Eyed Peas on Google, however, returns high links to songs by the band on Lala.com, without any disclosure of the company’s partnership with the music provider. Halfway down the page are links to the group’s videos on YouTube, with no indication that Google owns the site.

The company is using its dominance in search to establish or extend leads in other business areas, said Gary Reback , a prominent Silicon Valley attorney representing opponents of the Google books settlement.

“Our goal as a search engine is to give users the info they’re seeking as quickly as possible,” Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said. “Sometimes that means embedding our own content … at the top of the page when it benefits users.”

Litany of concerns

A litany of other concerns has been raised about Google’s privacy policies, dominance over online advertising, censorship of search results in China and impact on traditional media.

But for any claim against it, Google can fairly point to examples of model corporate behavior. In 2004, the company committed to dedicating 1 percent of its equity and profits to address “the world’s most urgent problems.” It stood up to government demands for user data when rivals backed down. And it set up an initiative to allow users to easily transport their online data, even from Google applications to those of its rivals.

Compared to many, it goes to great lengths to earn consumers’ trust, said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“By dint of its size, it is threatening, but I think it’s trying to do the best it can in that context to be a good corporate citizen,” he said.

Even Google’s fans, though, say it needs to recognize and respond to the way its actions are perceived, even when it’s convinced strategies are right or righteous.

“Google thinks of itself as Snuffleupagus, but others see it as Big Foot,” author Jarvis cautioned.

Should the perception of Google continue to worsen, there is a risk beyond government lawsuits, analysts say. The company’s highly profitable advertising model depends on a tacit agreement with its customers: We’ll provide innovative products for free, if you let us flash ads tailored to your online behavior.

But if consumers stop believing the company will handle their information responsibly, it’s an easy switch to a new search engine.

Google is aware

Google says it does recognize the threat. Like Microsoft a decade ago, it has dramatically scaled up its lobbying and public relations efforts. It has recently sought to partner with the industries complaining most vocally about its disruptive technologies and has given users more power to edit information stored about them.

“We’ve long subscribed to the theory of transparency and openness and have worked hard in recent years to engage with critics and fans alike,” Google spokesman Matt Furman said. “We recognize that our competition is one click away.”

About Google

Founders: Larry Page (left) and

Sergey Brin

Founded: Menlo Park, Sept. 4, 1998

Headquarters: Mountain View

Chairman, CEO: Eric Schmidt

Revenue: $21.8 billion for 2008

Employees: About 20,000 full-time as of January 2009

Source: Google

E-mail James Temple at jtemple@sfchronicle.com.

Google Shutting down Anti-Obama Websites?

Google Shutting down Anti-Obama Websites?

Rick Moran
Sure looks that way although the fault may lie with an organized attempt by Obama activists to silence blogs that disagree with their candidate.

The key to the shutdowns is found in the corner of every Google “Blogspot” blog. Blogspot is the widely used publishing platform Google offers free of charge to people who wish to blog. In the upper right hand corner of every Blogspot blog is a button you can click if you find the subject matter offensive.

Simon Owens of Bloggasm explains:

A “Flag Blog” link sits at the very top of every free Blogspot account. If a person finds objectionable content on a Blogspot site or suspects it’s publishing spam, he or she can click on the link and it will send a notice to Google requesting “human review.”
I spoke to several of the bloggers who had accounts locked and every single one was convinced that it was Obama supporters who had flagged the blogs in some kind of concerted effort to silence them. But when I asked for specific evidence of this, most simply pointed out that only anti-Obama blogs were targeted – a fact that is certainly suspicious but not especially conclusive.
The incident highlights the often-contentious relationship between online Hillary and Obama supporters. Popular sites like Digg.com have consistently posted anti-Hillary links and popular liberal blog Daily Kos experienced a “boycott” a few months ago when several Hillary supporters left the site.
A blogger who uses the pseudonym “GeekLove” (she wouldn’t agree to a phone interview and wouldn’t tell me her real name) said to me via email that when her blog, Come A Long Way, was shut down she thought it was a fluke as well.
“I also felt a little bit humiliated that someone would think to characterize my Blog as ‘spam,'” she said. “I had no idea why it would be ‘spam’ I assumed it was just some sort of mistake. I did think it was an isolated incident. I requested the Blogger review. I then went to the Hillary Clinton Forum, a place I frequently participate in on line discussions, and I saw Nobama‘s post ‘Blogger just shut down my NObama Blog!!‘ Then when other Blogger blogs were affected, I knew it was more than coincidence.”

So this is probably not Google’s doing – entirely. Let’s see how long it takes them to allow access for these bloggers to their own sites.

From my own experience with Google and my website that was shut down three times, I believe that Google takes such action at times to annoy conservative bloggers and perhaps try and get them to quit. Other conservative bloggers who have used Blogspot could probably relate their own horror stories. Bottom line: Google is guilty until proven innocent in my eyes and whether they deliberately shut down some of these blogs knowing full well they were not spam is a question we will probably never know the answer to.

 

Google Must Be Held To Account

 

http://www.amilimani.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=103&Itemid=2

Google Must Be Held To Account Print
Friday, 25 April 2008
It is one thing for Google Earth to depict the map of the world as is and another thing to manipulate it. It is one thing for any business to market its product and it is another thing to peddle something it does not own.

Google Earth has arrogantly violated the universally upheld norms by arbitrarily taking it upon itself to name the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Gulf. With a few strokes of the keyboard, Google Earth has obliterated from the face of the map a greatly-cherished historical and cultural heritage of an ancient people. One wonders what motivated this blatant action of Google Earth: a simple arrogant exercise of power or capitulation to the financial rewards offered by those who aim to further their world standing at the expense of others.Appeals by hundreds of thousands of Iranians and others to Google Earth to retain the longstanding designation of the waterway as the Persian Gulf and delete the newly-minted Arabian Gulf from the map have gone unheeded, thus far.

Demanding that the name of the Persian Gulf be retained goes beyond the fact that the Persians are rightfully proud of their heritage and strive to preserve the integrity of the historical documents that reference it as such.

For the record, the name Persia has always been used to describe the nation presently known as Iran and its ancient empires since 600 BC. Also, the Persian Gulf is an apt name for the body of water that abuts Iran for over 2000 kilometers while about a dozen recently-created Arab Sheikhdoms and Emirates border the Persian Gulf on the other side.

Without disparaging the Arabs, Iranians wish to retain their non-Arab heritage and strongly resent any attempt at denigrating or changing any aspect of their Iranian identity. Even inside Iran, the Iranian people have been constantly fighting and opposing similar attempts by the brutal dictatorship of the ruling IRI regime. The Persian Gulf occupies a pivotal place in the Iranian history and culture.

The historical and geographical name of the Persian Gulf has been endorsed and codified by the United Nations many occasions and is in use by the UN, its member states, and all other international agencies worldwide. The last UN Directive confirming the name of Persian Gulf was issued on August 18, 1994.

On almost all maps printed before 1960, and in most modern international treaties, documents and maps, this body of water is known by the name “Persian Gulf”, reflecting traditional usage since the Greek geographers Strabo and Ptolemy, and the geopolitical realities of the time with a powerful Persian Empire (Iran) comprising the whole northern coastline and a scattering of local emirates on the Arabian coast.

It is worth mentioning that the name of Persian Gulf has been admitted in all the live languages of the world, and all the countries throughout the world name this Iranian Sea, Persian Gulf. Even our Arab neighbors do not need to alter a historical name to have a gulf of their own, because there has been a gulf in their own name previously mentioned in the historical and geographical works and drawings, which is presently called the Red Sea (Bahr Ahmar).

Iranians worldwide, as well as all people interested in preserving the integrity of historical and cultural records, are deeply affronted by this arrogant action of Google Earth. Acquiescing to practices of this sort is tantamount to appeasement which only serves to whet the appetite of aggressors and violators. Precedence may pave the way for a torrent of infringements on every aspect of every people’s cultural, historical, and other heritage.

It is our hope that all enlightened and fair-minded people who value the preservation of humanity’s diverse heritage raise their voices and compel Google Earth to restore the rightful name of the Persian Gulf to the waterway.

Contributing writer Amil Imani is an internationally known writer and essayist, who has dedicated his time to research on Iran’s noble heritage.

If you are a reporter or producer who is interested in receiving more information about this issuer or this article, please email your request to

Dr. Iman Foroutan
Member of the Board and Spokesman
Iran of Tomorrow Movement (SOS Iran)
imanf@sosiran.com
(714) 280-3579

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