Don't look for Google to be joining the Future of Privacy Forum any time soon. The FPF is yet another Washington coalition purporting to serve consumers' best interests, fancying itself as a champion of online privacy issues.
"FPF will seek to bring transparency to online data practices," the FPF site states. "Our plan is to document practices, [and] produce multimedia educational materials and commission reports and studies that provide consumers and policy makers the real story about how their data is used."
Sounds good, but I'd suggest FPF take a healthy dose of transparency itself, starting with the fact that the outfit is funded by telecommunications giant AT&T, which, as you may recall, has a few issues of its own when it comes to protecting consumer privacy. AT&T is one of the phone companies that didn't hesitate to turn over customer records as part of the Bush administration's illegal domestic spying program.
Perhaps AT&T has turned over a new leaf, having learned the error of its ways. Then again, perhaps not.
In a Nov. 29 op-ed piece in the Bangkok Post, FPF Co-chair Chris Wolf painted a picture of Google as not "entirely forthcoming about what exactly is going on" when it comes to data collection by the search behemoth.
"Indeed, Google already has a long way to go to bolster its privacy protections," Wolf wrote. "According to Privacy International, a human rights group, Google ranked dead last out of 23 companies in its 2007 survey on privacy. Google was the only company to earn the bottom ranking for 'comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy.'"
The Bangkok Post identifies Wolf as a privacy lawyer with Proskauer Rose, which is true, but fails to note that the firm represents AT&T, Time Warner and Verizon, three of the largest broadband providers in the United States. Nor does the newspaper mention Wolf's involvement with the AT&T-fronted FPF. Of more concern, neither does Wolf once mention his affiliations.
Wolf's advice to Google?
"To help assuage the concerns that Internet users have about their personal privacy online and over wireless channels, it could take some steps to set users' minds at ease," Wolf wrote. "For example, it would be wise to follow the example of some major multinational communications companies, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon."
Jules Polonetsky, the FPF's other co-chair, told Wendy Davis of MediaPost that Wolf's remarks don't reflect the FPF's views. In an excellent post, Davis quotes Mike Zaneis, vice president of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, as saying, "The Future of Privacy Forum has chosen to come out immediately and show itself as a shill for their sole funder, AT&T, in what really is a covert war against the Internet advertising industry."