It’s bad enough that Google Inc. went along with the U.S. government’s PRISM program, which secretly spied on the electronic communications of millions of U.S. citizens (including Gmail users) for years.
But the search giant GOOG +0.03% has also taken a similar and equally bizarre anti-consumer stance as it wages yet another battle against Americans who believe they have a private legal right to wireless Internet communication in their homes.
The decision in San Francisco on Sept. 11, by a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court, emphatically rejected Google’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by homeowners whose private WiFi data was collected by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company for its StreetView mapping service.
The company destroyed the data, apologized for collecting it and promised not to collect any more when it agreed to settle a civil action by 38 states back in March.
Google, which sells millions of online search ads displayed next to StreetView results every year, paid a financial penalty of $7 million in that settlement.
Among other things, the company had argued in that case that the data capture was a big goof-up, as if one or several of its most clueless employees all ended up on the initial StreetView team.
But someone in the company hired the person who hired those people, and before they sent them out in their trucks with the roof antennas, no one at Google bothered to tell them that they SHOULDN’T be collecting data from people’s in-home routers — without their knowledge.
That suggests that Google’s corporate culture — purportedly guarded by some of the most stringent hiring requirements in the tech industry — is either very sloppy, or has a natural bias against its customers’ desires for online privacy.
Such a culture would not be surprising to long-time watchers of the company, who remember that former CEO Schmidt once promoted the notion that there is no such thing as online privacy when he stated that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
That puts Schmidt up there along with former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy — who told the editorial board and business reporters of the San Francisco Chronicle in September 2003, that “you have no privacy, get over it!” — among the former tech CEOs hostile to the notion that users of Internet services have a right to private communication.
It also raises the question of whether both Schmidt and Page had no ethical problem when, as Google CEOs, they allowed the NSA to go through millions of their users’ electronic communications with nary a peep.
In fact, secretly capturing wireless communication in some suburban cul-de-sac is not much different than secretly reading emails en masse on an NSA computer.
The fact that Google sought to dismiss the lawsuit, rather than settle it, suggests that the figurative slap on the wrist it got in settling with the states has emboldened its consistent stance against online privacy.
Google’s motion for dismissal, which the Ninth Circuit panel rejected, supports that interpretation, as the company argued that it should be exempt from violating the Federal Wiretap Act because home WiFi communication is akin to radio communication that is “readily accessible to the general public.”
I wonder how many U.S. consumers agree with Google that, when sending or receiving personal emails over their home WiFi network, those communications are open to the public.
For those who believe that online privacy is a fundamental right of U.S. consumers, let’s hope that the jury and/or jurist impaneled on the case — if it goes to trial — disagree with the view of privacy put forth by Schmidt, McNealy and the Google legal team.