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Why Google shouldn’t have to admit its privacy sins

The gadfly activist group Consumer Watchdog grabbed more headlines this week after a federal judge let it weigh in on Google’s (s goog) $22.5 million privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumer Watchdog is jumping up and down because the settlement, which punishes Google for hacking shenanigans, doesn’t require the company to admit wrongdoing.

“Google executives want to buy their way out of trouble with what for them is pocket change, and then deny doing anything wrong,” said Consumer Watchdog’s John M. Simpson, adding the deal “undercuts the regulatory process.”

Baloney. Simpson and friends appear to be seizing on recent comments by FTC commissioner J. Thomas Rosch to stir the pot. Rosch earlier this month dissented in a Facebook (s fb) privacy case, saying he preferred that companies use the phrase “neither admits nor denies.”

Well, wait a minute — shouldn’t these companies have to fess up and own their wrongdoing? In a perfect world, yes. But, in reality, the current system works because it shames the companies and forces them to pay sizable fines. Companies choose to play this game because it provides them with a partial shield from civil lawsuits.

A source from a big tech company, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me that firms would fight bitterly if they had to admit liability in the FTC settlements. This would result in many more court cases and higher risk and cost for the government. The current “name, shame and pay” tactic used by the FTC and other agencies isn’t pretty but it’s largely effective.

Which brings us back to Consumer Watchdog. Critics say the company is a playground for trial lawyers.  And, unlike the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups that post reports, Consumer Watchdog’s funding and operations are a black hole.

Consumer Watchdog’s latest hysterics smell all the more in light of its recent anti-Google crusade (remember that ad in Times Square?) and the presence of the indefatigable Gary Reback, a former Microsoft lawyer who is currently representing a shopping site that is suing Google.

All of this doesn’t mean Google deserves less scrutiny. The company has many, many sins to atone for and there are few signs it plans to get privacy religion anytime soon. Courts and activist groups also deserve blame for creating privacy settlements that pay lawyers but do little to involve the consumers whose rights have been violated.

The privacy scene is a mess but Consumer Watchdog’s decision to demagogue the regulatory process won’t help.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock 3445128471)

6 Responses to “Why Google shouldn’t have to admit its privacy sins”

  1. Google isn’t getting away with anything. “No admit” clauses are standard boilerplate, like in environmental civil actions. As was stated, they help move a case to a beneficial resolution that may have taken forever to achieve, if at all.

    • Google is getting away with everything and profitting imensley from it. IMO, all of this malware was created by Google/Android to make themselves seem vulnerable so they can release new “anti-viral” programs with more malware in them…thus invading more privacy and getting more personal information. Have you seen their “Face-To-Unlock” patent? What’s REALLY going on? People are so gung-ho about Androids’ new “bells and whistles” that they’re blind to the fact that these new technologies are for Googles’ benefit. A front facing camera? Not on my phone. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna use “their” wallet to add my credit card to my account by just taking a picture of it. Screwed….that’s what we are.

  2. Seriously, the headline itself is enough to make one wonder where is the expectation of decency and respect:

    “Why Google shouldn’t have to admit its privacy sins”.

    Google should be held 110-percent accountable.

  3. Unbelievably naive blog article.

    Google gets away with far too much, in the US and elsewhere. Thankfully the EU authorities are holding Google to more accountability regarding privacy… Because they have no lobbying power here and writers in Europe don’t have the cavalier attitude that Jeff John Roberts has.

    Google needs to be swatted into being a good citizen, not pandered to with forgive-and-forgets. The US media and regulatory agencies in the US are far too lenient with Google, Facebook and others.