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Consumer Watchdog investigates Google

Posted: May 19, 2010 3:15 p.m.
Updated: May 19, 2010 3:54 p.m.
Santa Monica, Calif. -- Consumer Watchdog formally launched Wednesday, a new website that focuses on Google's activities.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group launched to inform the public about the effects of Google's influence over the Internet.

Inside Google's blog is authored by experienced consumer advocates and journalists working to hold Google engineers accountable to social mores, ethical customs and the rule of law, Consumer Watchdog said.

"Google advocates openness and transparency for everyone else, but when it comes to their own activities, the company is extremely secretive," said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. "Inside Google will focus needed public attention on Google's activities."

With the support of the Rose Foundation, Consumer Watchdog began a project in the fall of 2008 which calls for greater online privacy, and criticizes Google for tracking consumers' online activities without stated permission.

According to Consumer Watchdog, the goal of the project was to convince Google of the social and economic importance of preserving their customers' privacy.

If Google, the Internet's leading company, could be persuaded to adopt Consumer Watchdog's proposed privacy guarantees, those policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, the group said.

Later, Consumer Watchdog took the following action:

* Consumer Watchdog called for the U.S. Justice Department to intervene in the proposed Google Books class action settlement on the grounds that Google violated antitrust laws. The DOJ is opposing the settlement which is awaiting a ruling in a Federal District Court. Consumer Watchdog filed two friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the deal.

* Consumer Watchdog joined with the Center for Digital Democracy in urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the proposed $750 million deal for Google to buy mobile advertising company, AdMob, also on antitrust grounds. The FTC is expected to announce its decision shortly.

* Consumer Watchdog advocated that Google offer SSL encryption on its services. Google announced Friday that it would offer SSL on its search engine.

* Consumer Watchdog called on the Department of Justice to investigate possible antitrust violations in Google's activities in April and recomended the breakup of Google as a possible solution.

* When Google's "WiSpy" scandal broke in Europe -- Google was accused of gathering data from private networks-- Consumer Watchdog asked the FTC to investigate. Today, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) wrote to the Commission, asking if WiSpy violated any federal laws.

Contributors to the site include:

* Veteran journalist John M. Simpson. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Simpson taught journalism at Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson is a frequent contributor to op-ed pages across the country, and a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research.

* Margot Williams, who has more than two decades of experience as an investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting. Williams is the co-author of "Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web" (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the "Networkings" column in The Washington Post for five years.

* Glenn Simpson, who was an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1995 to 2009 and is the recipient of several journalism awards. He covered American campaigns and Washington politics, as well as the technology industry, digital privacy issues, antitrust issues, and the Federal Trade Commission. He is the co-author of "Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption In American Politics" (Random House; 1996).

* Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog's President, and an award-winning consumer advocate. Court is the author of "Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It" (Tarcher/Putnam, June 2003). Court helped to pioneer the "HMO patients' rights" movement in the United States, sponsoring successful laws in California and aiding them elsewhere. He has also led major corporate campaigns to reform insurers, banks, oil companies, utilities and political practices.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, Calif.


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