26 Feb Well, that wasn’t very Googly
Wired, By Nicholas Thompson, February 24, 2009
Google’s got a lot of enemies in Washington these days, including a few who like to dress in black cloaks and attack it in ways that can’t be traced back. One recent episode was a crafty push poll funded by Microsoft. (Turns out that, if you phrase the questions right, advertisers are terrified of Google’s monopoly!) Google generally tries to stay above the fray—but it can jump in too. Including just recently … The story starts with Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit group that cares about privacy. They’re tenacious and aggressive — so much so that one might suspect they’re funded by Microsoft or AT&T. But they’re not: they get their money from the Rose Foundation, which, according to an interview with founder Tim Little, has gotten its money from California class action settlements with instructions to fund advocacy on the issue. Recently, they’ve really pissed off the Mountain View company. So Bob Boorstin, the director of Corporate and Policy Communications, sent a letter to the Rose Foundation blasting Consumer Watchdog, and, er, asking that Rose defund them. “Most recently, they accused our company — without any evidence whatsoever and actually referencing ‘a rumored lobbying effort’ in a press release — of trying to obtain permission to sell patient medical records. I am hoping that as you consider the activities of your grantees and whether to renew your commitments, you will take these kinds of activities into account and consider whether there might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources.” That’s not very nice! Consumer Watchdog has gleefully flamed the controversy and Boorstin now apologizes. He’s also sent to Wired a copy of a letter that he sent to the group in November. Here’s his statement: “We have meetings constantly with groups that disagree with us on any number of issues. In fact, we engaged for months with Consumer Watchdog and sent them detailed responses to their concerns about user privacy. But the group’s recent actions — and in particular its baseless accusation that we were lobbying Congress for the right to sell patients’ medical records — led us to believe that they are more interested in attracting media attention than in engaging in an open and honest dialog. Nonetheless, I made a mistake in sending information about the group’s activities to the Rose Foundation for which I apologize. Google supports the right of anyone or any institution to fund whatever group or project they choose.”
I have a feeling this isn’t the last act in the story.