According to Watchdog and press reports, Bob Boorstin, Googleâ€™s Director of Corporate and Policy Communications, wrote to one of Consumer Watchdog’s foundation funders that: “I am hoping that as you consider the activities of your grantees and whether to renew your commitments, you will take these kinds of activities into account and consider whether there might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources. I would like permission from you to address a letter to your Board of Trustees or Board of Directors in which we can highlight the activities of this grantee.â€
Mr. Boorstin’s use of the phrase “better groups” sent a signal to the foundation world:Â don’t fund public interest organizations that work aggressively to make one the world’s most powerful companies accountable.Â Google’s work to pressure a foundation to cut off support for a privacy group creates a chilling effect.Â At a time when Google is increasingly the focus of concern from privacy and consumer groups, and many policymakers around the world, Mr. Boorstin’s letter can be viewed as a self-serving attempt by the company to stifle debate.Â If a group such as Consumer Watchdog intentionally libeled the company, than Google can pursue legal action.
But Boorstin’s letter to a funder appears designed to send a strong signal to the foundation world that they shouldn’t financially support groups that critically question the company.Â With Congress taking up privacy legislation this year, Google has a great deal at stake.Â This is precisely the time when consumers require as many watchdogs as possible, to ensure that Google and other online marketers protect their privacy.
We read in press reports that Mr. Boortsin has since issued an apology, saying that “…I made a mistake in sending information about the group’s activities to the Rose Foundation for which I apologize. Â Google supports the right of anyone or any institution to fund whatever group or project they choose.”Â But we don’t see any apology on its official policy blog, where it should be.
Yesterday, the National Journal, which covers Washington DC politics and lobbying, reported that “Google is launching a new effort to counter its critics with stepped-up outreach to analysts, journalists, policymakers and think tanks.” [sub required].
Google has an opportunity here to make a break with how things are done in Washington, politics, with privacy policies, and the online ad business.Â Groups such as mine and Consumer Watchdog, in essence, are asking Google to be the prototypical ethical corporation.Â Become transparent, disclose, embrace openness, develop policies that inform and empower citizens and consumers.Â I firmly believe it can do all that and still make a great deal of money.
My group is also funded by the Rose Foundation, as are many other privacy groups. That’s the foundation Mr. Boorstin pressured (they resisted, of course–but the message was sent to the funder world as intended).Â Google knows well that philanthropic sources of funding to support privacy work are slim.Â Google gives money to certain privacy groups–which in our mind raise conflicts of interests for them.Â What’s needed are a growing global array of independent consumer organizations focused on the nature of the emerging digital economy–and which means Google will likely be the subject of serious scrutiny and debate.Â Google should be welcoming such civil society activity–instead of trying to smother it.
This incident suggests that Google leaders need to seriously examine how best to address their critics–and also work harder to resolve conflicts within its corporate culture about its long-term ethical goals.
PS:Â On the specific issues of digital health marketing and privacy, there’s more work to be done here.Â Google, Microsoft and many others see a gold mine in online health marketing.Â Google is interested in the health market.Â Here’s an excerpt for a job they had open last year to be based in New York:
Senior Account Executive, Healthcare Vertical
As a Google Healthcare Account Executive, you’ll work with those who provide advertising solutions for companies that produce and sell consumables and health care products/services. The primary responsibility of the GMS Account Executive is to drive and grow new business revenue with Fortune 1000 advertisers in the healthcare Account Executive industry. You’ll manage business relationships to ensure that your clients’ needs and requirements are met. This will require you to serve as their advocate within Google while collaborating with other Google teams to provide them with a comprehensive portfolio of solutions and options. This is a high-adrenaline, client-facing sales role requiring deep industry expertise, proven sales ability with a particular penchant for closing deals, and a broad base of industry contacts. You understand and anticipate how decisions are made, and you’ll persistently explore and uncover the business needs of your key clients.
* Work collaboratively with the GMS team to drive revenue growth with new and existing customers in the Pharmaceutical Account Executive industry.
* Develop high-level relationships to serve as a trusted consultant with major customers to optimize their advertising expenditures.
* Generate business plans to define your selling strategies and tactics.
* Understand and adapt to Google’s ongoing product and technology developments.
* Manage multiple cross-product opportunities and projects.