Ex-Googler Falls Prey to Wonderful Privacy Flaw of Google Buzz

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-02 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This is a fun story.

Andrew McLaughlin, formerly Google's top lobbyist and currently the deputy CTO in the White House, where he advises President Barack Obama on Internet policy, apparently was aghast to find his contacts exposed by Google Buzz.

Buzz is the social Web services that leverage Gmail users' contacts. By default, Buzz was built to expose users' contacts on their Google profile.

This didn't sit well with many people. Privacy group EPIC complained. A class-action lawsuit was filed.

The FTC is looking into the matter. Google made many changes to assuage users concerned about their privacy. But some damage had already been done.

Take McLaughlin's case from Andrew Breitbart's Big Government blog.

McLaughlin's Buzz profile, which has since been made private after he appealed for help from Google and others on Buzz, includes almost 30 Googlers, including product managers, Google senior lobbyists and lawyers. The blog noted:

So, is he now shaping such policy by conferring outside of official White House e-mail channels with the scads of Google lobbyists in his Gmail list? Who's to say. After all, it's not necessarily unreasonable for McLaughlin to be communicating with his former friends and colleagues at Google.

It's not at all unreasonable, and the first part of the paragraph is exactly the type of stuff that generates ill-founded rumor and conjecture. The surprise about whom McLaughlin has on this list is, I hope, a feint to create drama where none exists, or sheer stupidity.

Let me get this straight. A guy works for a company for some years, makes friends and colleagues, and people expect him to drop those friends and contacts that he's cultivated during his employment when he leaves? All for the sake of the appearance of keeping in propriety?

Horse pucky, as a former colleague of mine is fond of saying. While in a perfect world there would be an absence of bias from within the government on down to who gets favored at the local best-in-show event in Podunkville, USA, we're not in a perfect world.

Conflict of interests abound. Trying to quash them is like putting the proverbial finger in the dyke or dam.

The blog drills its point home deeper toward the end:

But it does raise questions when Google's former top lobbyist, now serving in the executive office of the president, is using his former employer's private email and social networking tools (Gmail and Buzz) to communicate privately with bunches of Google lobbyists and lawyers. What are they communicating privately about? Perhaps "shaping policy that affects Google's rivals"?

Again, that line is a cheap shot. Unless there is evidence of impropriety, some malfeasance or scheming between McLaughlin and Googlers, this is National Enquirer- caliber rumor-mongering.

Also, must McLaughlin switch all of his Google data to Microsoft, Yahoo or some other e-mail provider because he used to work at Google and now discusses Web policy? I submit, no.

Nonetheless, this batch of horse pucky worked.

Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson rushed to call conspiracy, requesting copies of e-mail between McLaughlin and Google under the Freedom of Information Act. Simpson said:

The appointment was troubling when it was announced, but signs that McLaughlin is continuing a cozy relationship with his former employer while serving in the top White House Internet policy job are even more disconcerting. The public has a right to see exactly what sort of messages have been exchanged with his former employer and colleagues.

I submit that the public doesn't need to know. Who cares?

Google isn't getting special treatment from the Obama administration. If anything, it's getting quietly railed.

The DOJ opposed Google Book Search. The FTC is looking into the very app that caused this issue -- Buzz -- and is investigating whether or not the $750 million AdMob bid is a good idea.

In fact, I expect Google to get hammered by an antitrust suit any day now. The perception has turned. People view Google as a more consumer-friendly version of Microsoft. That's unfortunate, but that's the way it goes in business, which is cyclical.

Get too big and you court intercession from those more powerful and presuming to be more important than you. That would be Big Brother.

 
 
 
 
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