Analysis: Consumer Watchdog’s complaints against Google

Posted by David Gomez

Consumer Watchdog has taken their public war of words with Google to a whole new level. The group’s recent 32-page report generates complaints that suggest Google is benefitting from US corporatism.

We first covered the release of Consumer Watchdog’s new satirical video “Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington” and the accompanying 32-page report on Sunday.
 
The advocacy group also sent a letter to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is Chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asking him to investigate Google’s cozy relationship with the last two presidential administrations. Watchdog is calling on Issa to use his power of subpoena to get Google CEO Eric Schmidt to answer some questions.

The investigative report is full of juicy details and if any the information is accurate then it points to an alarming trend. We could have a situation where Google has been allowed to gain too much power and influence in government. At this point there is no reason to think that Watchdog’s report is fabricated in any way.

There is a troubling situation described in the report about Google’s 2007 agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to use Moffett Airfield, near Google’s world headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Originally the agreement called for only four jets to use the base.

According to the report government documents show that Google’s hangar privileges have been expanded.

“Newly released government records show that the Google executive fleet has now grown to six jets and two helicopters, while at least 40 Google employees hold security badges at the base and all of the planes are supplied with Department of Defense jet fuel.”

That means that Google’s higher ups, employees of one of richest companies on earth, are casually flying around the world on taxpayer’s dollars. And they aren’t all business trips either; some of the documented flights took executives to fancy weddings at Richard Branson’s private island and another one took them to a party near the Cannes Film Festival where Mick Jagger was on the guest list.

The whole NASA airfield deal was based around the fact that Google would be conducting scientific experiments with aircraft outfitted with diagnostic equipment for the government in exchange for use of the hangar. Currently there is hardly any significant data gathered by Google’s scientific experiments to point to. It appears as though Google is getting something for nothing.

Google also has a secretive relationship with the National Security Agency that should really have people concerned. Google executives have been to Fort Meade in Maryland where the NSA is based to talk to cyber security personnel.
 
Google also worked with the NSA in January of last year when 24 companies found themselves under cyber-attack from hackers in China who were trying to get their private data. It is assumed that they shared information and security methods.

What has observers worried is neither that Google nor the NSA will give any details about the rapidly evolving role Google plays in national security. It is very obvious that Google is the government’s preferred beltway insider when it comes to providing technology solutions. What is not obvious is what kind of data Google is sharing with the NSA.

This presents a conflict of interest because Google has access to millions of people’s personal data, but more specifically they have access to their Internet data. Theoretically Google could provide the NSA with the Internet history of millions of Americans. The NSA from time to time intercepts the communications of American citizens, and a LOT of people communicate through Google services.

You may ask yourself, why is this bad, and why should I care? You should care because I think you have the right to know if one of the biggest technology companies in the world, one that lots of trusting people depend on for Internet services, is secretly doing some spy work for the NSA.  

It’s one thing if we catch the spooky NSA spying on Americans and invoking the never-ending war on terror as an excuse. That is something that people have deep feelings about and would most likely spark outrage and political opposition.

But if you can get a public face, one that people trust, to do the dirty work for you, then you can try to hide the fact that anything unconstitutional is going on. It’s easier for the national security state if a friendly, public face does all of dirty work and takes all of the risk. That way if Google gets caught the attention is focused on them and not the NSA, which everyone has come to despise.

There is a lot more detail in Consumer Watchdog’s report about Google’s recent rise to power within the government sector. The government has either allowed Google to become too powerful, much like the too big to fail banks, or Google has entered into some kind of mutually beneficial relationship with the US government and its many different agencies.

Either way Google is getting some preferential treatment that none of the other mega technology companies have been able to get. That is significant somehow, we’re just not sure how because we need more information. And of course, nobody involved is talking.

It would be nice if Issa could call Google before the House to testify and get some answers. Even if Issa is able to call a hearing, I wouldn’t expect too many real answers about NASA and the NSA and the often brought up Wi-Spy scandal. Google is in good with the national security state and those guys are very good at protecting their own.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t trust anything Google says until we get some answers about their relationship the US government. And even then I still wouldn't use their web browser.

Check out the 32-page report here.