We all know that it is virtually impossible for Google to keep a low profile on anything. When you are that big and influential everyone is paying attention and it seems like every time someone breaks wind at the Googleplex it’s news. It’s the price of fame I suppose.
Of course, if you create the kind of stir that Google recently did around its Buzz service and the apparent “mistake” of making way too much information public without asking the users, then people pay close attention.
One of those is the soon to be ex-Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, Pamela Jones Harbour. During an FTC roundtable discussion in which she noted that her remarks were her own and not those of the FTC (since she is the acting commissioner until April 6 I call BS on that statement but that’s another issue) and the Wall Street Journal reports
“Protecting consumer privacy is of utmost importance,” Ms. Harbour said during a Federal Trade Commission roundtable discussion about privacy Wednesday, speaking via videoconference from Barcelona, Spain. “Unfortunately, many of the companies that consumers look to as leaders — and that we expect to be leaders — still have not taken this message entirely to heart.”
She went on to rip Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt as well.
Privacy is a fundamental right that consumers still care about and have expectations for, Ms. Harbour said. Those norms do not change as technology evolves, and the stakes are growing as more information, such as genomic and public-health records, is made available, she said. Ms. Harbour cited recent comments from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who said during an interview with CNBC, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Ms. Harbour said she could not disagree more with that assertion. “The Commission will continue to evaluate consumers’ preferences, and armed with these insights, I hope and expect that the Commission will continue to shape the conversation about the intrinsic value of privacy,” she said. “But make no mistake: The Commission will unfailingly step in to protect consumers where we believe the law has been violated, and that includes violations relating to privacy promises.”
Google’s arrogance, whether perceived or real, doesn’t appear to be serving it well in Washington. If this is the attitude of the exiting Commissioner then they better hope that the next one is a little more Google-friendly. Google’s response to this is what one would expect.
A Google spokesman said in a statement that user transparency and control are “top of mind” for the company. “When we realized that we’d unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns,” he said. “Our door is open to additional feedback and we’re continuing to make more improvements based on that feedback.”
While I am not a big fan of government being too involved in anything I am beginning to wonder about privacy more and more. Ms. Harbour’s following statement made sense and made me think a bit.
“Deeds speak louder than words, and this is turning into a dangerous game of ‘copycat’ behavior,” she said. “Unlike a lot of tech products, consumer privacy cannot be run in beta.”
Hmmm. Maybe this is why she is leaving the FTC. She makes some sense here and there appears to be little room for that kind of behavior in Washington these days.