Tag: consumer watchdog

Google says no "legitimate privacy" for Gmail users

Gmail users should not expect “legitimate privacy” when they send emails using the service, according to a legal brief representing Google.

In a brief filed in federal court, Google lawyers said users “cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s email provider in the course of delivery”.

“Indeed, a person has not legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties,” the brief said.

A highly redacted copy of the complaint is available at the Consumer Watchdog website here (PDF). It argues that, due to Google’s silence, users do not consent to Google reading the content of email messages, as well as asserting Google is violating state and federal wiretap laws because the company combs through emails to help it with its targeted advertising.

Google’s motion to dismiss is available here (PDF) and repeatedly references how the process is automated, and suggests users are aware.

Google also says if the way it access emails are changed, it could criminalise services like spam filtering and search.

The motion reads:

“Plaintiffs’ claims should be rejected because they would lead to anomalous results with far-ranging consequences beyond the allegations in the Complaint. Plaintiffs’ theory–that any scanning of email content by ECS providers is illegal–would effectively criminalize routine practices that are an everyday aspect of using email. Indeed, Plaintiffs’ effort to carve out spam filtering and virus detection from their claims underscores the fact that their theory of liability would otherwise encompass these common services that email users depend on.

District judge Luck H Koh will hear the case on 5 September in a San Francisco District Court.

Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director, John M Simpson, said users should take Google at its word. “

If you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail,” Simpson said. “Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy. Sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office, I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it”. 

TechEye has approached Google for a response.

Google well poised to privatise the web

Consumer Watchdog is calling for ICANN to keep a close eye on enormous corporations such as Google and Amazon, and to reject applications made to buy new Top Level Domains (TLDs) in bulk.

The watchdog addressed the open letter to ICANN’s board and CEO and other relevant parties. John M Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, said that there are plans by Google and Amazon to buy up enormous amounts of new TLDs. Simpson argues that it is one matter for a company to buy associated domains such as .Google, .YouTube, .Android, .Amazon, or .Kindle, but says that is not what they are looking to do.

Simpson pointed out that Google is using a subsidiary, Charlestone Road Registry, to spend $18.7 million on domain names such as .eat, .buy, .book, .free, .web, and .family, while Amazon has applied for .free, .like, .game, and .shop. They are looking to buy 101 and 76 domain strings respectively.

Consumer Watchdog said in its letter that generic words are not the property of any one company, and that when they are used in a generic way, they belong to all people. But, the watchdog points out, if they are allowed to buy generic names they are closing off common words which they haven’t got intellectual property rights over – nor are they even associated with the brand. Simpson warns that ICANN will be allowing the companies to “circumvent nation-states’ entrenched legal processes for obtaining legitimate and recognised trademark protections”.

In doing so, the argument is that corporations will effectively be privatising parts of the internet – with the possibility of becoming walled gardens.

“Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the internet,” Simpson said. “Allowing them further control,” Simpson said, “would threaten the free and open internet that consumers rely upon”.

Google attacked by antitrust watchdog over Frommer's buy

Google has snapped up travel guidebook brand Frommer’s, a deal which has been attacked by a consumer group over potential antitrust implications.

The acquisition will mean Google further increasing its online content services a year after the acquisition of restaurant ratings service Zagat. Frommer’s online and print publications will offer the search giant extensive local reviews and listings content. Owners John Wiley & Sons did not reveal how much the deal was worth.

Google has made other inroads into the travel industry, acquiring software firm ITA last year. Although the deal was eventually given the all clear by US authorities, the Federral Trade Commission was keen to ensure that Google would not be leveraging its dominant position unfairly.

Now it seems that the Frommer deal has raised the ire of consumer rights groups, with Consumer Watchdog demanding another antitrust investigation from the FTC.

The antitrust allegations centre around the firm moving away from its traditional services and further into providing online content.

“There is a fundamental conflict between being a search provider and a content provider,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, said in a statement.  

“As Google has increased its content and services, it has unfairly favoured them in its search results and damaged competitors,” he said. “It makes absolutely no sense to approve this deal.”

Google is already in hot water with the FTC, having been landed with a record $22.5 million fine last week.  

The search giant also faced criticism from a UK MP over its tax payments which have been described as using the controversial “Double Irish” system. 

But according to Alan Davis, a partner at law firm Pinsent and Masons, the deal is unlikely to run afoul of competition authorities as Frommer’s does not have the dominant position that ITA had prior to its Google buy out.

“I don’t think that this particular acquisition is likely to be objectionable from a merger control point of view,” Davis said.  “I don’t think the competition authorities will be able to block or it or raise serious concerns about the acquisition at this stage in order to stop it taking place.”

According to Davis it is unlikely that the deal in itself would constitute anti-trust, though should Google unfairly leverage its own position search dominance then authorities could come calling again.

“There may be concerns down the line depending on how they treat other travel guides,” Davis said.

“If they act in some sort of discriminatory way in relation to how their search engine works and they give favourable discrimination to Frommer’s, then they could be subject to challenge for abuse of dominance,” he said.

Watchdog wants Egypt style internet revolution in US

An organisation is questioning whether an internet revolution, similar to the one made in Egypt would help kick off a debate and boot out the US’s money hungry corporations.

The Consumer Watchdog is wondering if the same social media rules could start a peaceful revolution in America against the Wall Street and corporate powerhouses, which it claims  have turned the government against the best interests of its people.

It wants to use the internet in the same way as the Egyptian people did, claiming that the revolution in Cairo showed the power of online platforms like Twitter and Facebook to authentically air outrage and connect change makers. An army of bloggers also helped lobby for their rights.

Of course this didn’t go down too well as Egypt’s internet was largely shut down. However by that time news of the demonstrations had already gone around the world and back again. The speed of information thanks to the internet and social media is what ensured the news of the protests went global in minutes.

Now the Consumer Watchdog wants people to use the internet in the same way to bring down corporations. However, it says there is still a huge fight to protect peoples freedom online. Once again it says that this is because of the corporations, which created these platforms.

According to the corporation the abuse of corporate power makes people’s blood boil.
The 2008 election was supposed to settle the score with Wall Street and the corporate elite but the organisation claims that the change never came. It also points out that there is nearly no chance of it happening this year or in 2012.

Consumer Watchdog has clearly been moved by what is describes as the “heroism of the Egyptian people.

“We are inspired by their example,” it said in a newsletter.


Consumer Watchdog barks, bites Google's ankle

Lawyers representing Consumer Watchdog are in court today in an attempt to persuade Judge Deny Chinn to deny the revised Google Books settlement.

The main thrust of their argument is that the revised settlement is anticompetitive and flies in the face of US and international law. The judge won’t make his final ruling today.

The head lawyer representing Consumer Watch is Daniel Fetterman of law firm Kasowitz, Benson. He said the amendments to the Google Book settlement are insufficient. “If approved, this settlement would improperly destroy potentially millions of absent authors exclusive copyrights and would give Google an unfair monopoly that is not in the public interest.”

Consumer Watchdog is not the only interested party in this case. The US Justice Department also opposes the proposed settlement.

Consumer Watchdog agrees with the Justice Department that the amended settlement is a bridge too far. John Simpson, from CW, said: “Google claims it is building a digital library to benefit the public. In fact this deal, negotiated in secret, simply furthers the relatively narrow agenda of Google, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.”

He said the settlement would give unfair control to one company.

Here are the arguments from Consumer Watchdog in full:

  • The settlement continues to abuse the class action process and is not      fair reasonable or adequate: “This revised plan is still nothing more      than a private business arrangement, masquerading as a settlement,      that would steal from unsuspecting absent class members while      benefiting Google.  Notably, it is only the Rightsholders’ share of      the proceeds that will be donated to charity, and Google would still      make a profit from these sales.”     
  • The amended settlement continues to give Google an unlawful and      anti-competitive monopoly: “In effect, the agreement temporarily      suspends the copyright laws for Google, giving it the rights to copy,      distribute, and publicly display millions of copyrighted      books–including ‘orphan’ works for which Rightsholders cannot be      easily located.  By utilizing the class action settlement mechanism to      obtain these rights, Google avoids the transaction costs that any      potential competitor would have to incur.”     
  • The proposed settlement is an unconstitutional attempt to revise the      rights and remedies of U.S. Copyright law: ” In essence, the parties      ask the Court to strip copyright protection from millions of books,      putting the onus back on the copyright holders to step forward and      reclaim their works.  But this Court may not rewrite copyright law.       Only Congress has ‘the constitutional authority and the institutional      ability to accommodate fully the varied permutations of competing      interests’ that must be balanced when amending the Copyright Act.”     
  • The proposed settlement continues to conflict with international law:      “One of the most significant revisions to the proposed settlement is      that many international Authors and Publishers are now excluded from      this settlement through the revised definition of ‘Book.’  But      Rightsholders from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom–all      countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention–are still      included.   And authors from these countries would be subjected to the      identical, and impermissible, ‘formalities’ that were found in the      original settlement.”     
  • The amended settlement does not do enough to protect reader privacy:      “The current amendment merely restricts what data could be shared with      the Registry, but otherwise remains silent about whether, and to what      extent, the public’s reading preferences could be shared with other      organizations such as news outlets or governmental authorities acting      without a search warrant.  And while Google has publicly asserted that      its current privacy policy will apply to its book activities, that      policy is voluntary by nature and subject to change at Google’s whim.”     
  • The public deserves a ruling on the question of fair use: “The      Plaintiffs contend that Google’s copying and displaying copyrighted      Books violates 17 U.S.C. section 106, while Google argues that such      use is permitted under the fair-use doctrine.  If, as Google claims,      its search-engine activities are protected by fair use, a ruling on      this matter would not only resolve the parties’ conflict, but would      (if resolved in Google’s favor) allow the creation of a competitive      book-search market, not one controlled solely by Google, who is      already the market leader in on-line search engines.”