Is the Obama administration giving Google special access to a private NASA airstrip? Why hasn't Google been sufficiently investigated for "spying" on people in over 30 countries?
Those are just a couple of questions the group Consumer Watchdog is asking in a new report calling for a congressional investigation into what it says is a "cozy" relationship between Google and the Obama administration.
In an open letter to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, the group calls for action and outlines suspicious activity between Google and several government agencies, including NASA and the National Security Agency (NSA).
For example, the group says Google has "unique access to Moffett Field near Google’s headquarters, where a fleet of jets and helicopters stands ready to serve Google executives." While the company does pay for that access, Consumer Watchdog believes the fee may be below market value, and NASA has denied similar airport access to other companies, including a non-profit humanitarian group:
The letter further charges federal agencies have taken "insufficient" action in response to revelations last year that Google Street View cars collected data from open Wi-Fi connections they passed while snapping pictures in "more than 30 countries" (which the group calls the "Wi-Spy" debacle).
And that's all in addition to the potential conflict of interest when it comes to the company's relationship with the NSA -- the group says both Google and the NSA haven't been open about what consumer information is shared when Google aids in investigations.
"I understand the NSA is a super-secret spook organization," Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson told PC World. "But given Google's very special situation where it possesses so much personal data about people, I think that there ought to be a little more openness about what precisely goes on between the two."
"We believe Google has inappropriately benefited from close ties to the administration," the letter says. "Google is most consumers' gateway to the Internet. Nonetheless, it should not get special treatment and access because of a special relationship with the administration."
The letter concludes: "Our report only reveals only part of the picture. The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee has subpoena power if necessary. We urge you to use all the tools at the committee’s disposal to reveal the extent of Google’s influence on the government and how the Internet giant has unfairly benefited."
To make its point, the group released a video satirizing what testimony from Google CEO Eric Schmidt might look like:
But getting actual testimony could be hard considering Schmidt's relationship with the president. The CEO has announced he will be stepping down from Google, and some suspect the man who's already an adviser to Obama could get a presidential appointment soon enough. John Dvorak over at Market Watch writes:
As head of the largest information-gathering operation in the world along with experience running a massive corporation, I foresee Schmidt as the eventual head of the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency. Essentially that’s what he is now as CEO of Google.
Intelligence czar, anyone?
Details of the group's accusations and questions can be found its 32-page report.
Is there another conflict of interest?
In response to Consumer Watchdog's letter, a Google spokeswoman questioned the group's objectivity to PC World.
"This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from an organization that admits to working closely with our competitors," said the unnamed spokeswoman, referring to accusations by some that the group itself has a cozy relationship with Google competitor Microsoft.
That notion was quickly denied by Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson.
"We don't have any relationship with Microsoft at all," he told PC World. "We don't take any of their money."
The group calls itself "an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics," and boasts about taking on everything from insurance giants to oil companies.
It's also not a conservative front taking a cheap shot at the president. The group was founded in 1985 by Harvey Rosenfield, a disciple of Ralph Nader who has blogged for the Huffington Post. His past stances and preference to be called a populist inch him more toward the left than the right (although he has rejected the tag "liberal lawyer").
Still, others on the team could be considered progressives who have proudly worn the label "community organizer."
So what's the point of the letter and report?
"Google's held itself to be the company that says its motto is, 'don't be evil,' and they also advocate openness for everyone else," Simpson told PC World. "We're trying to hold them to their own word."