Microsoft's assault on Google continues, with a lawyer who represents Microsoft charging in a New York Times op ed piece that Google is the "emperor" of the Internet with dangerous data-collection and privacy-invading policies. And it's not just any lawyer charging this, but a former commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency charged handling privacy issues.
Pamela Jones Harbour wrote the op ed piece for the New York Times. She was with the F.T.C. from 2003 to 2010 and is now a lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski, where she represents Microsoft and other technology companies.
She says that Google is the Internet's "emperor" because she claims Google accounts for more than 80 percent of all Internet searches and 98 percent of all searches on mobile devices. And that dominance, she claims, can be put to dangerous use and needs to be curbed. She says that the F.T.C. has been investigating Google for two years for possibly illegally stifling competition, but that it appears the F.T.C. might not do anything about it in return for "Google's willingness to make some modest changes in the way it uses certain consumer information." She warns:
"This would be a severe setback for Internet users. It will allow Google to continue to amass unbridled control over data gathering, with grave consequences for privacy and for consumer choice."
She argues that Google's dominance in collecting data about people is not only a danger to privacy but is also anti-democratic, because it doesn't allow people to make choices about the way their data is used, and because it gives Google too much of a competitive edge against other companies.
She then turns Google's own words against the company. She notes that not long after Google's founding, it adopted a set of principles, one of which was "Democracy on the Web works." She says, though, that Google has become so dominant, it has become the Web's "emperor." She concludes:
"...an emperor is an emperor. And when it comes to the Web, as Google's wise founders said, democracy works best."
It would be easy to dismiss her piece as merely the work of a lawyer-for-hire out to harm Google at Microsoft's bidding, or to say that it veers too much into rhetoric and over-simplification. In fact, though, she's right. The amount of information Google gathers is exceedingly alarming, and it also may be using its dominance to illegally harm competition. The F.T.C. needs to seriously consider ways to curb its power and ensure it doesn't do harm with its data gathering.