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NY Times Can’t Tell the Difference Between a Consumer Watchdog and an Industry Sock Puppet

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2013 Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't 11 Comments
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One of the most frustrating things about covering the public policy issues surrounding broadband is an-often lazy mainstream media that cannot tell the difference between an industry sock puppet and a consumer broadband advocate. One expects that the New York Times will do better than most.

It certainly did not this morning in a sloppy front page piece on Google’s privacy invasion concession.

New York Times reporter David Streitfeld seemed utterly out of his league from the lede paragraph in the story, where he suggested Google “casually scooped up passwords, e-mail and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users.”

That is a bit histrionic considering any “data theft” would have only occurred for the 5-15 seconds Google’s Street View vehicle was in range of an entirely unprotected home Wi-Fi network, and that you were actively using it at the time of Google’s “drive-by.” If you enabled any wireless network security, Google would have captured nothing beyond the name of your Wi-Fi network (assuming you had not hidden it with another setting) — something anyone could capture with a Wi-Fi sniffer.

Even more concerning was the sudden appearance in the piece of paid Google critic Scott Cleland, who runs a suburban Washington, D.C. corporate public strategy lobbying firm called Precursor LLC that has as its chief mission:

Help companies anticipate change to better exploit emerging opportunities and guard against emerging risks.

Attacking Google and broadband advocacy groups is Cleland's bread and butter.

Attacking Google and broadband advocacy groups is Cleland’s bread and butter.

The New York Times called him a “consumer watchdog.”

At this point I coughed up my peppermint patty.

Cleland, whose rhetoric about Google ranges from alarmist to lugubrious — America must worry about being on the cusp of a Google-run online dystopia — is well-known to those of us who encounter his various paid-for campaigns. Cleland is best known for his anti-Google rhetoric and his reflexive defense of all-things-Big Telecom, hardly surprising considering his client list.

What is disturbing is that I know this and the reporters at the New York Times apparently do not:

“Google puts innovation ahead of everything and resists asking permission,” said Scott Cleland, a consultant for Google’s competitors and a consumer watchdog whose blog maintains a close watch on Google’s privacy issues. “But the states are throwing down a marker that they are watching and there is a line the company shouldn’t cross.”

At least the Times casually disclosed he was a “consultant for Google’s competitors.” But consumer watchdog? That is a line the Times shouldn’t cross because it is reality only in a world where Goldman Sachs is considered a model for altruistic investment banking.

Currently there are 11 comments on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    I know I don’t comment, but I do love reviewing your articles. Thanks for writing and keep it up!!

  2. txpatriot says:

    Phiilip: if you had replaced “google” with “AT&T”, “Verizon” or “Comcast”, would you have been as equally forgiving of the inadvertent privacy brreach? Something tells me you would not have cut those carriers nearly as much slack as you’re willing to give google.

    • This isn’t, in my view, some major privacy breach. I also don’t see a path to monetize this data. Google collecting Wi-Fi network IDs and locations (their intent apparently) might be useful internally, but there is no intent to market this information for third party use for profit that I have seen.

      Verizon, et al., probably collects my usage data and may know what I am watching or browsing online. I don’t care if they collect data for internal use (it’s already a part of their terms and conditions). I do care if they disclose it to third parties for compensation without disclosing it to me and giving me an opt out.

      Google charges me $0.00 a month to use their services. Verizon charges me almost $170 a month and wants even more by marketing the data they collect from me without compensating me for it (although they expect to be compensated by third parties). I opted out and explained to our readers how they can opt out as well. As long as they honor that opt out, I have no problem with what they do if you don’t as a paying, fully informed customer.

      What Google did was pretty stupid in this instance, but the reason they are getting over-hammered for it is because:

      a) they are very large;
      b) their competitors have paid groups like Cleland’s to attack;
      c) their excuse for doing it seemed hazy.

      The NY Times piece completely overhypes this into a full-scale hack attack that just didn’t happen.

    • Chris says:

      I must not be in the loop? Did they actually obtain WIFI names and data from homes, or are just being ACCUSED of it? Just wondering. Thank you.

  3. Richard Bennett says:

    “Google charges me $0.00 a month to use their services”

    Ha. They monetize you by selling information about your web habits to advertisers that want to pitch things to you. It’s a fair trade and nobody should go hysterical about it, but Google’s a business, not a charity.

    Cleland has a long track record as a consumer advocate; in fact, he was working on the pro-consumer side of issues in DC before you could spell “bandwidth cap.”

    Your ad hom schtick is getting pretty old, why don’t you try facts and figures for a change?

    • Nobody here is suggesting Google is anything but a business. But their business model fits my needs far more than some of their competitors. Instead of creating better products, companies like Microsoft hire Cleland to smear Google at every opportunity, stoking fear through ridiculous overreach.

      Richard, you calling Scott Cleland a “consumer advocate” is hardly surprising. You work for a K Street lobbyist that advocates for the same telecom companies that cut Cleland checks to represent their interests.

      Birds of a feather….

      • Richard Bennett says:

        Your ad hom schtick is getting pretty old, why don’t you try facts and figures for a change?

        • Everytime we debate any issue, no matter if I dropped an annual financial statement from the top 10 providers to support our contentions, your consistent response would be, and is, “where are your facts and figures?”

          Sometimes you miss the things right in front of you. There are plenty of facts and figures all over the 3,103 articles here. Enjoy!

          Here is a fun fact: Calling someone a “consumer advocate” doesn’t make them one.

          • txpatriot says:

            Phillip: FWIW, I don’t think I’ve ever read any ad hominem attacks in any of your posts to me. We disagree but we don’t get my personal. Just my 2¢ . . .

  4. Jeremy says:

    Ah, a support of telecom lobbying comes out to support a telecom lobbyist. Thank you Phillip.

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