Most of us use Google products on a daily basis and are familiar with the company’s powerful email and Internet search services. But these days, there is a lot more to Google’s technological operations — and they come with myriad new ways to collect our information. Now the company that used Street View cars to collect unsuspecting people’s information, and received the Federal Trade Commission’s largest civil penalty ever for misleadingly tracking Safari users, is reaching new levels of political power.
A new Public Citizen report, “Mission Creep-y,” explores Google’s accruing power, both in terms of personal data collection, and federal and state government influence, raising the question of whether it could become too powerful to be held accountable.
Key findings about Google’s growing political power:
Key findings about Google’s information gathering:
For a company so interested in knowing more about its consumers, Google isn’t very transparent in its methods of gaining political influence. A recent Center for Political Accountability-Zicklin Center report about companies’ political spending transparency showed Google lagging behind many of its biggest technology-sector peers. The company does not meet transparency standards set by fellow technology companies, such as disclosing how much money it gives to outside groups that spend money in elections, using transparent corporate oversight to make political spending decisions, or divulging information about its state lobbying spending.
Even the company’s shareholders have called for it to be more transparent. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt publicly acknowledged this shareholder opinion in May, and said in October that he did not know the status of efforts to follow up on those concerns, but that “we certainly promised.”
Though Google recently withdrew from the American Legislative Exchange Council (better known by its acronym ALEC) because it said the conservative think tank inhibited action on climate change, the report notes that Google continues to provide unknown amounts of funding to major dark money groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Google has essentially responded to concerns about its practices by saying, ‘Just trust us,’” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “But Google is gaining so much power that regulators may find it difficult to act if it turns out the public’s trust has been misplaced.”
Sign the petition calling on Google to improve its political spending practices by dropping its membership in the dark money behemoth the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.