Google’s D.C. public policy lobbyists need to do better than echo the same phrases that advertisers have used for decades. Whenever questions are raised about unethical and consumer harmful business practices, advertising companies–now including Google it appears–trot out the same old canard. Google’s policy people say that we should all be thankful that online advertising has given the public “consumer benefits in the form of more online resources and more relevant information…Simply put, advertising is information, and relevant advertising is information that is useful to consumers.” We are happy to debate the issue about the role online advertising plays in the future of diverse content, especially news. We have real concerns about the gatekeeping role Google and a few others will play as the online content market rapidly evolves. But Google has not answered the basic question, months after its announced takeover of Doubleclick. What privacy advocates are saying is that the way Google conducts its interactive marketing business (especially in the light of the proposed takeover) is a privacy concern–not online advertising itself.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt (see his new Financial Times op-ed) wrote that although Google is concerned about privacy, the solution does not “…automatically mean new laws. In my experience self-regulation often works better than legislation – especially in highly competitive markets where people can easily switch providers.” But, of course, with Google’s dramatic expansion, along with the rush to consolidate (Microsoft, Yahoo! and Time Warner, among others), it’s questionable whether we will have competition. Besides, we require national laws, not self-serving declarations from CEO’s whose business model depends on the collection and expanded use of personal information.