Standing up to Google’s heavy-handed pressure

Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Standing up to Google’s heavy-handed pressure

    I was in Washington, DC, last week to attend EPIC’s Champion of Freedom Awards Dinner. One honoree in particular prompted the cross-country trip: The Rose Foundation.

    EPIC — the better known acronym for the Electronic Privacy Information Center — has been focusing attention on civil liberties and privacy issues since 1994.  We joined with them recently to complain to the Federal Trade Commission about Facebook’s most recent privacy intrusions.

    Tim Little, Rose’s executive director, represented the charitable foundation at the  dinner.  The program explained the reason for the award:

    “The Rose Foundation also confronted powerful companies that tried to terminate funding for some of the Foundation’s grantees.  The Rose Foundation did not waiver and maintained support for independent research and advocacy.”

    Well, just so you know, the powerful company trying to mess with funding was Internet giant, Google, and the grantee was Consumer Watchdog. We had received a $100,000 grant from Rose to fund our Google Privacy Project. Bob Boorstin, one of the top executives in Google’s Washington lobby shop, didn’t like a news release we issued.  He sent emails to Little suggesting we not be funded.  Little rebuffed him and sent us the email exchange, which we released.

    Last fall, I was in Washington to testify about Google before the House Judiciary Committee.  Boorstin’s boss, Alan Davidson, was in the audience. During a break he tried to make up and we chatted a bit. He said we should make a point of talking more frequently.

    I told him that was difficult to do when Google executives were trying to get our funding yanked.  He told me that Boorstin had admitted he was wrong and had apologized. I agreed that he had been quoted in the media as saying he was wrong to have intervened and that he was sorry.

    But, I stressed, I always understood that if you were sincere about an apology you made sure you actually delivered it to the parties you had wronged.  I told Davidson that neither Consumer Watchdog nor the Rose Foundation had heard anything from Boorstin.

    I asked  Little at the EPIC dinner if he had ever received an apology from Boorstin.  I bet you’re shocked, just shocked, to learn that both of us are still waiting.

    The Rose Foundation took an important, principled stance against a corporate giant accustomed to throwing its weight around and getting its way. It set a high standard for all charitable foundations and provided a glimmer of hope for those of us who want to end corporations’ stranglehold on our democracy. I was delighted to be able to help honor them.

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