Google's mission may be to open the world to information, but it is refusing to let our consumer group buy a search advertisement promoting wildly popular online animation that takes CEO Eric Schmidt to task over his statements about privacy issues. It seems the search giant cares a lot more about its own corporate privacy, than it does about its users' privacy.
We sent Mr. Schmidt a letter asking him to revisit the denial of search word advertising requests that are critical of Google and taking him to task over recent statements this week in the wake of our animated short, Don't Be Evil?, which has over 300,000 views on Youtube in six days.
Schmidt said in Berlin this week: "We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: we know where you are, we know what you like."
The statement's more than a little creepy. Privacy is all about personal control -- our ability to say "no" to a company or government agency collecting our information, our ability to say "no" to any person or group knowing where we are, what we like, and what we care about, so that it can suggest what we should do next.
The comments, as our letter says, "suggest an Orwellian future where deprivation of choice and independence are paternalistically justified as unparalleled advances in consumerism.
"Collecting this type of information without allowing users the ability to control it or remove themselves from tracking in total is, for want of a better word, evil -- even if you don't plan to use the information for nefarious purposes."
Consumer Watchdog's "Don't Be Evil?" animation features Eric Schmidt giving free ice cream to children while taking their personal information. The statements by Schmidt this week show that Google fails to recognize its business model is incompatible with personal privacy absent the company's support for a federal "Do Not Track Me" list that allows consumers not to be tracked online, or a "make me anonymous" button on its services. Consumer Watchdog has been calling for such a reform for two years.
Consumer Watchdog's case to Schmidt regarding opening up search word ads that criticize Google is this:
Google seems to value its corporate privacy far more than it values individual Internet users' privacy. Recently, we were denied a search word advertisements that contained the word "Google" in it. The reason for the denial: "Trademark in Ad Text."
A company that owns a search engine that controls 70% of the market and wants to know everything about us should at least let people buy search word advertisements that criticize it by name.
You denied our search word promotion based on trademark rights, even though Google has
become a matter of common parlance like "Kleenex" or "Xerox." We call upon you in the future
to name a price for search word promotions that criticize Google and not to assert the trademark defense.
Your comments in Berlin reaffirm the fact that Google is not just any other company. Google is becoming the Internet, and it has a moral obligation to let critics communicate with Internet users via Google search.
Trademark holders do not always assert their rights to prevent search word advertisements that include their trademark. In 2007, when Intel ran what we viewed as a racist advertisement, we bought search word promotions critical of the company and were allowed to run them on your search engine. We call upon you now to allow the same. Open up Google to the same scrutiny every other person or group faces on the Internet.
Google responded to our animation by saying "We like ice cream as much as anyone, but we like privacy even more." In our letter today we offer to buy the CEO and founders some ice cream if they are willing to reevaluate their notions of online privacy:
We are happy to buy you and the founders a scoop in honor of Google's twelfth birthday at a shop of your choosing if you are open to discussing the possibility of supporting an anonymizer button and a "Do Not Track Me" function.
We have been making the same offer for two years, but you have refused to meet with us and have even attempted to revoke our funding by contacting the charitable foundation that supports our work. We didn't appreciate that, but we will gladly put it behind us -- and buy the ice cream -- if you will begin to consider granting individuals the option to fully control their personal information.
After all, there is no such thing as free ice cream.
Jamie Court is the author of The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell and the President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.
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