As Google grows in size, so does its political influence. And, while this may not overly worry most people, there is one man who is keeping a close watch on the search engine firm. He is Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, and one gets the feeling that he revels in his role of giant-killer.
Simpson thinks that Google enjoys far too much power in Washington—not least in the White House, where Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin is seen as being too close to his former employers. And last week, Inside Google, an offshoot of CW, broke what Simpson says is, "one of the biggest wire-tapping scandals in U.S. history." He's talking about Google's data-collecting methods, which may have been harvesting information that could be harmful to national security.
On Tuesday, FastCompany put some questions to Simpson about Google's growing influence in D.C., and these are his replies.
Why do you think there is so much panic about Google's influence in the White House? "I don't see panic. I see legitimate concern about the amount of influence Google now wields in Washington. Google has gone from having no presence a few years ago to becoming one of the biggest players. Last year, Google spent $4.03 million lobbying. Spending on lobbying increased 57% in the first quarter of 2010 over the first quarter of 2009."
According to a Google spokesperson, McLaughlin was never a lobbyist. Do you dispute Google's version of events? "McLaughlin was 'Director of Global Public Policy.' I understand that to mean he was attempting to shape regulations and laws to benefit Google around the world. In simple language he's a lobbyist. Google's Political Action Committee, Google Inc. NetPAC—which contributes to political candidates—listed McLaughlin as assistant treasurer and designated agent in a March 16, 2009 filing. He was registered as a federal lobbyist in 2007, though Google now claims that was a 'mistake.'"
Which side of the Google-White House partnership do you fear the most: the government, with its attitude to grabbing data, or Google's data-gathering antics? "I distrust them equally."
How has Google's goings-on in China affected your judgment of the company's dealings with governments? "Google should never have kowtowed to China in the first place. It was good that they announced that they would no longer censor search results on Google.cn. However, the announcement was something of PR spin that helped them recover from the fact that their security was breached. The recent solution where they do not offer search on Google.cn, but offer a link to their Hong Kong service is a compromise with the Chinese that lets both sides 'save face,' an all-important concept in Asia. What Google should do is offer SSL encryption using the HTTPS protocol as the default mode for search on its Hong Kong site. That would help protect Chinese users of the service from Government snooping."
Just how evil do you think that Google could be with too much White House influence? "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The danger stems from Google's own misguided motto 'Don't Be Evil.' If you believe that's your motto, you rapidly come to believe that everything you do must by definition be good."