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Growing White House ties to Google draw protest

Consumer groups object to expected selection of Google exec to deputy CTO post

June 4, 2009 11:50 AM ET

Computerworld - When he was a senator, President Barack Obama pitched the idea of of what was widely called a "Google-enabled government" to illustrate his interest in making public data easily searchable and accessible. But the White House's reported plan to appoint another Google Inc. executive to a top tech advisory post is, for some, carrying the idea too far.

Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of global public policy, is expected to be appointed U.S. deputy chief technology officer, reporting to federal CTO Aneesh Chopra. Both are new White House positions.

Two groups, the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Watchdog, yesterday urged Obama (PDF document) not to appoint McLaughlin to the post. In a letter signed by Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and and John Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, the groups said that McLaughlin "has been a lobbyist for the biggest digital marketing company in the world, and we believe no special-interest connected person should assume a position of vital importance to the country's future."

It's the same argument they would have made had Obama appointed someone from Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo Inc. to a similar position, according to the letter.

The consumer groups also cited earlier appointments of Google executives and managers to help make the case that Google's White House reach is too deep. Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, who advised the Obama transition team, was recently appointed to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Other Google employees now working for the White House include Katie Stanton, a former Google project manager who now leads citizen participation efforts, and Sonal Shah, former head of development at Google.org, the company's philanthropic arm, who directs a new White House Office of Social Innovation.

While the appointments are obvious points of intersection between Google and the new administration, the concern raised about Google's influence is much deeper.

For example, Google's settlement of a lawsuit brought against it by major authors and publishers is getting scrutiny from the Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company's hiring practices and links to Apple.

"There are an increasing number of emerging issues that will likely pit the commercial interests of Google against the rights of American citizens, including protecting our privacy and consumer rights online," the two groups wrote.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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