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Google seeks starvation of growling watchdog

(Semi-)apology for money-snuffing missive

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Google has attempted to cut the funding of a well-known public watchdog, after the organization launched a "guerrilla" attack on its Washington lobby operation.

In a statement sent to The Register this morning, Google apologized for the incident. But it has yet to apologize directly to the parties involved.

In late January, the Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog issued a press release urging Google to cease a "rumored lobbying effort aimed at allowing the sale of electronic medical records" via President Obama's economic stimulus bill.

The Mountain View search giant now runs an online medical records service dubbed Google Health. But it vehemently denied Consumer Watchdog's claim, and in the past, it has said it has no intention of serving ads on the service.

Two weeks after the press release was issued, Google's director of corporate and policy communications, Bob Boorstin, sent a note to the Rose Foundation, the philanthropic organization that funds Consumer Watchdog's ongoing investigation into Google's privacy practices. In the note, Boorstin suggested that the foundation reconsider its support for the public advocate.

"In the case of Consumer Watchdog, I want to point out that they have taken it upon themselves to launch attacks upon Google that are totally fictitious," he wrote.

"Most recently, they accused our company - without any evidence whatsoever and actually referencing 'a rumored lobbying effort' in a press release - of trying to obtain permission to sell patient medical records. 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."

Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court soon responded by firing his own letter at Google CEO Eric Schmidt, questioning the company's priorities in light of the Boorstin incident.

"We have tried to constructively engage Google on its privacy problems for about six months now," Court wrote. "So it's remarkable that Google's most rapid and substantive response to our privacy concerns is a letter from your director of Corporate and Policy Communications to the charity funding our work seeking an end to its support.

"One would think Google's top executives have more important priorities than defunding a consumer group critical of your lack of privacy protections. Nonetheless, I am writing to offer some observations about Google's less than open corporate culture, its opaque public policymaking division and some suggestions for change and moving forward."

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