FTC Privacy Conference More Evidence of ‘Regulatory Capture’ by Google

In January, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sponsored a conference called PrivacyCon, reports Sam Biddle of the The Intercept, where most of the presenters had financramirezial ties to Google. This is yet more evidence of our observation in March that top FTC officials, led by FTC Chair Edith Ramirez, act like Google employees. According to Biddle:

Google’s ties to PrivacyCon are pervasive enough to warrant interrogation. As a case study in how pervasive and well-concealed this type of influence has become, PrivacyCon is hard to beat.

Authors of a whopping 13 out of 19 papers presented at the conference and 23 out of 41 speakers have financial ties to Google. Only two papers included disclosure of an ongoing or past financial connection to Google.

Back in March, we called the FTC/Google relationship the most extreme example of “regulatory capture” that we had seen in Washington in recent years. … Read More ➡

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FTC Chair Ramirez Asked About Contradictions in Senate Testimony on Google Antitrust Probe

We are asking Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Edith Ramirez to address “contradictions” in testimony she gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 9 regarding the FTC’s dropping of an antitrust action against Google in 2013.

The request points to a variety of evidence obtained through open government laws that suggests that Ramirez and other FTC officials have unusually close relationships with Google, and that those relationships may have helped the company avoid antitrust action.

By highlighting Ramirez' obvious efforts to mislead Congress, we seek to bring public attention to a larger problem. It appears that FTC officials operate much like employees of Google, and that Google calls the shots about its own oversight. This is the most extreme example of “regulatory capture” we have seen in Washington in recent years.

The issue first came to the fore in March 2015 when the Wall Street Journal reported that the FTC … Read More ➡

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Congressional Committee Asks FTC for Info on End of Google ‘WiSpy’ Probe

Jeff Bliss of Bloomberg reported yesterday:

A U.S. House committee chairman asked the Federal Trade Commission to provide details of Google Inc.’s collection of data from unsecured wireless networks.

The FTC on Oct. 27 announced it was ending its investigation into possible privacy violations by Google in its gathering of data for its Street View mapping project.

“I am sending a request to the FTC for a staff briefing on a number of privacy investigations including Google Street View,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns said in an e-mailed statement.

Bliss notes that Towns’ request appears to have been prompted by our November 9 letter asking for a congressional scrutiny of the FTC’s abrupt ending of its investigation of its ‘WiSpy’ probe:

Yesterday, the National Legal and Policy Center, a group that describes itself as an ethics watchdog, sent a letter to Towns, a New York Democrat,

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Google Lobbied White House on FTC Privacy Policy; Was Fix In on WiSpy Probe?

Obama Schmidt photoYesterday we reported that the FTC’s decision to close its investigation into the Google WiSpy affair came less than a week after President Obama attended a $30,000-plate fundraiser at the California home of senior Google executive Marissa Mayer. It also came four days after Google, after months of denials, admitted for the first time that its “Street View” video cameras were intercepting emails, passwords and website addresses sent by unsuspecting Internet users.

Now we’ve learned that on September 28, 2009, Becky Burr, a Google lobbyist at Wilmer Hale, emailed White House officials Susan Crawford and Andrew McLaughlin asking for a meeting to request the White House’s assistance in urging the Federal Trade Commission to back off on privacy. Her email reads in part:

Wondering if we can get together to discuss the movement away from a ‘notice and choice’ privacy paradigm to a more prescriptive normative approach? This is an

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Google Execs Raise Money for Obama as FTC Drops Probe

Obama Schmidt photo

From the White House blog yesterday:

As special interest billionaires continued to pour secret donations of millions of dollars each into front groups supporting Republicans, we asked the obvious question: “What do they expect in return?

Congressional Republicans have made clear that lobbyists have a seat at the table even when they are formulating their party’s broader strategy and governing vision.

People in glass White Houses shouldn’t throw stones. Consider these recent news items:

“Google’s Marissa Mayer is hosting President Obama for a Democratic party fundraiser tonight. Tickets are $30,000-a-head….” – San Francisco Chronicle, October 21, 2010

“After analyzing the unencrypted WiFi payload data captured by its Street View cars, Google now admits that the system captured entire e-mails, URLs and even user passwords.” – ZDNet, October 23, 2010

“The Federal Trade Commission [has] closed its investigation into Google’s collection of consumer data through its Street View

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Will the FTC’s Ramirez Tell the Truth at Senate Hearing?

Federal Trade Commission Chair Edith Ramirez is scheduled to testify tomorrow, May 11, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. The topic is “Examining the Proposed FCC Privacy Rules.”

The hearing comes amid allegations that Ramirez is not independent and takes her direction from Google.

On March 9, Ramirez contradicted herself in testimony she gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the FTC’s dropping of an antitrust action against Google in 2013. She testified that the FTC decision not to sue Google was “consistent with the recommendation that had been made by our Bureau of Competition staff,” adding that any “press reports to the contrary are just flatly wrong.”

However, an FTC Staff report, portions of which were inadvertently released last year, revealed exactly the opposite. The Bureau of Competition staff sought an antitrust action against Google.

Remarkably, Ramirez misleading statement was apparently prompted by a … Read More ➡

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Congress Must Investigate Google-Obama Ties

Obama Schmidt photoYesterday I wrote Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Darryl Issa (R-CA), the chair and ranking member of the House Government Oversight Committee, urging a thorough investigation of both Google Street View and the FTC’s recent conduct during its investigation of the program. Click here for a 6-page pdf of the letter that includes additional background on Google’s extensive and close lobbying connections with the Obama Administration.

As part of Google’s “Street View” operation, fleets of specially outfitted cars drove through multiple countries collecting photos, video and, as Google now admits, sensitive personal information from WiFi connections. Yet in late October, the Federal Trade Commission abruptly ended its investigation of “Street View” – a decision that came on the heels not only of Google’s admission that its surveillance was much more serious than previously disclosed but only days after a $30,000-a-head fundraiser for President Obama at the home of a Google … Read More ➡

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House Dems Block White House Witness in Google Email Breach

Google logoThe effort by House Republicans to investigate email practices at the White House hit a wall yesterday, when a motion to subpoena the White House deputy chief technology officer was blocked by Democrats during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) demanded a recorded vote on a motion to subpoena White House technology officer Beth Noveck, after saying that the absence of a White House witness “undermines the purposes of the hearing and prevents us from doing our job of conducting oversight of this issue.”

Chairman Lacy Clay (D-MO) immediately called an unexpected recess, and members sat waiting for 15 minutes before the subcommittee reconvened

The vote on the motion to subpoena was then defeated.

Republicans on the Oversight Committee are investigating why White House deputy web chief Andrew McLaughlin was in contact with former coworkers at Google from his personal Gmail account. In the emails, … Read More ➡

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White House Emails Show More Extensive Improper Contact With Google

McLaughlin photoRecent email communication between White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin (in photo), who is Google’s former head of Global Public Policy, and multiple outside individuals raise new questions about the official’s alleged circumvention of federal ethics and recordkeeping rules.

McLaughlin’s communications with Google officials and others about issues that directly benefit the company appears to be more extensive than indicated by a May White House report, which resulted in an official reprimand of Mr. McLaughlin. Click here for a 12-page pdf of the McLaughlin emails.

Administration rules expressly prohibit former lobbyist company officials like McLaughlin from involving themselves in federal policies that materially impact their former employer.  But the new emails, which NLPC obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show a continued pattern in which Mr. McLaughlin communicates with another apparent Google lobbyist, the leader of a Google-funded organization that lobbies in support of Google’s … Read More ➡

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Ethics Group Warns Trump About Silicon Valley Influence, Cronyism

google-buildingNational Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), today sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump responding to Silicon Valley’s recent suggestions that President-elect Trump “engage” Silicon Valley’s tech elite for key government posts, while preserving many of the digital initiatives started by the Obama Administration.

Trump is holding a meeting with tech leaders next week. With the exception of billionaire Facebook board member and Trump supporter Peter Theil, it is unclear whether representatives of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech giants will be there.

In its letter, NLPC slams Silicon Valley’s recommendations as a sure way to undercut Trump’s commitment to “drain the swamp” of corporate lobbyists and DC powerbroker influence, while undermining his commitment to restoring American jobs and the economy.

The letter states that Silicon Valley initiatives like the Office of Science and Technology Policy, 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, which were created or expanded under Obama’s leadership, … Read More ➡

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