Google hands millions to 'independent' watchdogs

Licking the hand that feeds it


What do you do when a global corporation pays out millions to the watchdogs that we expect to protect us against it? It's a fair question to ask in light of the Chocolate Factory's legal settlement this week, over Google Buzz. The privacy class action suit has landed a windfall of millions of dollars to "privacy" groups - but not a cent to ordinary citizens, users of Google Gmail's service whose privacy was compromised.

The Washington Legal Foundation's chairman Dan Popeo, a pro-business organisation, is one critic who has raised an eyebrow.

Google offered $8.5m to settle several class action suits last September. The Court made a preliminary settlement late last year and decided on the dispersal of money in February. The lawyers took a cut of just over $2m, leaving $6m to be spread around some 77 organisations. Only 12 made the cut.

Amongst the groups that failed to squeeze its snouts into the trough was EPIC, which complained that the selection process favored “organizations that are currently paid by [Defendant] to lobby for or to consult for the company”.

To say the least, that's an interesting description of the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which both hit the jackpot, receiving $1m each.

Judge James Ware approved the payouts,and then he included EPIC and one other recipient too.

"Why were these lucky 14 settlement fund recipients chosen and not others?," asks Popeo. "What criteria were used to choose them? How will the $6.1 million provide an 'indirect benefit' (as the judge put it) to the faceless, nameless plaintiffs in the suit?"

Popeo also notices another curiosity. In addition to EPIC's ticket on the gravy train, Judge Ware managed to find $500,000 for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Why that particular faculty? It's anyone's guess, but quite coincidentally, the Honorable Judge Ware is a lecturer at Santa Clara University.

It's a strange arrangement that sees purportedly independent "citizens groups" come to become recipients of cash from the companies they claim to fight, on citizens' behalf. A cynic would suggest that they might forget to bite the hand that feeds them.

And $1m is not a trivial amount to the EFF: in 2008/09 the organisation saw gross income of $3.42m, and was left with a shortfall of over $400,000. Google's cash from this one settlement alone exceeds both individual membership fees, and individual contributions - both under $1m. You could almost describe relying on Google is a kind of business model.

(Former EFF board chairman Brad Templeton is an old pal of fellow Burner Larry Page, as he explained here, in an unusually generous critique of GMail.]

It's all quite cosy. Perhaps the groups could nominate Google for one of their many awards: we suggest "Most Munificent Litigant".

Bootnote

Europeans shouldn't be so smug. The superstate hands out millions of Euros to environmental groups to lobby the EU. Greenpeace, to its credit, refuses to accept the cash.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021