The Good and Fragile Egos

Following up on my earlier post about Beyond Google and Evil, I just came across this article from the Wall Street Journal on one of Google’s detractors, Consumer Watchdog. Believe it or not, Google went after their funding!

…In January, Consumer Watchdog circulated a press release alleging a “rumored” lobbying effort by Google to enable it to sell personal medical data stored on its Google Health service. Simpson said the organization merely wanted to examine whether Google was trying to avoid new regulation under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which guards the confidentiality of patient data.

But Google was incensed. “That’s when Bob Boorstin went ballistic,” Simpson said, referring to Google’s director of corporate and policy communications in Washington.

Simpson defended the use of hearsay to make public allegations, arguing that it was appropriate for an advocate. “I don’t see any obligation in particular to call up the other guy and get his side of the story,” he said, adding, “We don’t lie, but we put out the facts we think are interesting.”

Google, however, was prompted to take the unusual step of asking the Rose Foundation to reassess its funding for Consumer Watchdog.

“In 17 years as a grant maker, that’s never happened to me before,” the Rose Foundation’s Little said. “Nothing Google has done has discouraged us from follow-up funding” for Consumer Watchdog, Little said, though no decisions have yet been made. He added, “Google would be much better off engaging with them.”

If you are proposing products that would put individuals’ health records online, you have to be ready for some criticism. But Google responded by trying to shut down Watchdog, and by trying to link Watchdog to Microsoft! (Microsoft is not linked to Watchdog.) Way to go, Google. That’s a standard PR tactic. I wonder whether it is good or evil.

In a sense, Watchdog did have the right intuition about Google. Google health is all about capturing the DTC drug advertising market away from the TV networks. Just imagine the types of targeting that will be possible when you’ve decided to upload your health information to Google!


Comments

8 responses to “The Good and Fragile Egos”

  1. Ramel

    Well hearing the words “we are not evil” is the first sign that you are dealing with an evil organisation.

  2. So much for the company motto, I guess.

  3. JThompson

    Perhaps they should change their motto a little. “You can make money without doing evil, but evil pays better.”

  4. dikken

    NY Times had this article about Google today:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/18/technology/companies/18antitrust.html?hp

    They are attracting attention.

  5. To me, the most important aspect of being not evil is to ensure that what ever you do isn’t used for evil purposes.

    If Google can’t ensure that the data they collect will not be used for evil purposes, they are not evil-free. The examples in your essay are pretty clear. To trick people into thinking that messages they send are not recorded, while they actually are recorded and can be accessed by others and by doing so cause the individual harm is evil.

    This is not a close call.

    I think it is a matter of the old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think that Google has corrupted itself, that their definition of what is evil has morphed into “things that Google does not do”, exactly the way that the Bush Administration’s idea of what was “legal” morphed into “what ever the President says is legal”, but only so long as GWB was president.

  6. Was there any truth to CW’s allegation that Google was trying to evade HIPPA? I’d expect a responsible advocate to do a bit of fact-checking and, yes, ask Google about it, if only to be able to respond to non-statements by a PR flack. But making a baseless allegation like that is completely irresponsible; presuming it’s without merit, I’d do exactly what Google’s doing and try to interdict their funding.

    I’m all for privacy – don’t get me wrong – but I have no tolerance for lying advocacy groups of any political stripe. Ethics aside, if an advocacy group resorts to bullshitting like this, how can you trust them on anything? Advocates yes, but effective? And if not effective, why fund them?

    What’s EPIC’s take on Google regarding medical privacy, lobbying, and HIPPA? Surely they can confirm Consumer Watchdog’s original allegation. Or not.

  7. Was there any truth to CW’s allegation that Google was trying to evade HIPPA? I’d expect a responsible advocate to do a bit of fact-checking and, yes, ask Google about it, if only to be able to respond to non-statements by a PR flack. But making a baseless allegation like that is completely irresponsible; presuming it’s without merit, I’d do exactly what Google’s doing and try to interdict their funding.

    I’m all for privacy – don’t get me wrong – but I have no tolerance for lying advocacy groups of any political stripe. Ethics aside, if an advocacy group resorts to bullshitting like this, how can you trust them on anything? Advocates yes, but effective? And if not effective, why fund them?

    What’s EPIC’s take on Google regarding medical privacy, lobbying, and HIPPA? Surely they can confirm Consumer Watchdog’s original allegation. Or not.

  8. Gah – stupid Sb post timeout. I implore the wise and gracious Moderator to whack the duplicate post above and this one too. I’m posting from my phone and I don’t have the luxury of real cut-n-paste to work around timeouts. Oops.