Google's Democratic Convention Big Tent Reeks of Pandering

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-08-20 Print this article Print

You may have heard Google is planning to set up an 8,000-square-foot "Big Tent" for bloggers covering the Democratic convention in Denver Aug. 25 to 28. Attendees will be able to see demonstrations of Google Apps.

We can't accuse Google of partisan politics here; this effort will be roughly duplicated at the Republican convention in Minnesota in September.

But what we may accuse Google of is pandering to both presidential campaigns ahead of what could be tough times for the company and others that rely on online advertising.

It's no secret the government is greatly concerned about the amount of data Google, rival search engines Yahoo and Microsoft, and even ISPs collect about Internet users.

Calls from both Republicans and Democrats for regulating what information search engines and ISPs can or can't access in the course of making money from their services have been frequent, if not steadily increasing.

The acquisitions of DoubleClick, Right Media and aQuantive by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft respectively only heightened fears that these companies are further honing in on our online identities to make more money.

Just as user names and IP addresses can be used as smoking guns to trace people, so, too, can they be used as efficient tools in targeted behavioral advertising.

That's the issue Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, has with a Google spokesperson positioning the company's Big Tent party as an example of "technology [as] a democratizing force." Chester, a pundit if ever there was one, has been calling out Google over its privacy practices for a while now.

Chester told the AP Google is attempting to expand its influence over the political process to help achieve its commercial goals.

I asked Chester, who described the Big Tent as part of Google's "lobbying infrastructure," to clarify his comments. He didn't mince words:

I see the things they are doing for both Republicans and Democrats are about lobbying. It's about extending their influence over the political process particularly as the next Congress and the next White House will be enacting a major privacy bill on online advertising. Instead of just being self-congratulatory, it would be better if they just admitted they are doing this for the reason they are doing it. They're like any other big business; they're engaged in lobbying.

Google hopes that by cozying up to influential political figures, it will at least soften some of the body blows the company is expected to absorb in Congressional meetings.

In these hearings, senators will do anything from chiding the company for being greedy (aren't you making enough money from online advertising?!) to baldly accusing the company of doing the big dirty no-no in high tech: practicing deep-packet inspection, or DPI.

Actually, politicians have already done these things. Google recently denied engaging in DPI, although when I talk to anyone with a technical background who relies on Google's search keywords, they swear Google is coldly crawling their sites from here to eternity.

Ah, sweet conspiracy. 

It isn't just the blogging tent that has Chester puffing his chest at Google of late. Just two days ago, the company unveiled its "Free the Airwaves" petition to get consumers on board for freeing up soon-to-be-obsolete white space TV spectrum. The company admitted that the more people who use the Internet, the better it is for Google.

To people who follow the space, the subtext of that statement is, "We need open spectrum to implement online advertising in that content and we need to engage in data collection on that spectrum."

Chester thinks Google should have just come out and said that. I'm not sure this applies to everything Google does.

Does this mean for every application or service it releases, which it may or may not eventually pair with online ads, Google has to state that it may eventually make money from the app through ads?

We know where Google's bread is buttered to the tune of $17 billion-plus per year. Is it necessary for a company to describe every monetary endeavor?

I believe that if that endeavor means Google or someone will need more info from what you search than just keywords, then yes, it should provide disclosure. If not, then who cares?

What do you think? |

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