Silicon Valley was alarmed. Across the country in Washington, federal lawmakers were proposing legislation that could have crippled the efforts of Web companies to collect consumer data that is crucial to selling advertisements online.
After a year of negotiations, the White House on Thursday unveiled privacy guidelines for these firms that urged them to install “do not track” technology on browsers but fell short of requiring it. Tech giants, in particular Google, breathed a sigh of relief. They would agree to curb some tracking activities, but it would largely be on their terms and wouldn’t hobble their cash cow.
“The White House announcement is a huge victory for Google on privacy,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
The “victory” didn’t happen by accident. Google has become a major force in Washington.
Once disdainful of the lobbying tactics of other companies, Google’s Beltway operations have become nearly indistinguishable from the most powerful corporations that line K Street. Last year, it doubled the amount it spent on lobbying to $10 million and doubled the size of its employee political donation fund to $836,000.
Google capped the reinvention of its Washington operations Thursday by announcing that former congresswoman Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) will head its D.C. staff. Molinari has made public appearances on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. After she left Congress in 1997, Molinari became a registered lobbyist and represented the Association of American Railroads, mortgage giant Freddie Mac and Verizon Communications, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
“She will help lawmakers better understand our company, how it works and what its impact is,” said a Google official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Google officials declined comment publicly on the company’s lobbying operations.
Google has hired several Republican political veterans over the past year, trying to defuse criticism by lawmakers that the firm is too cozy with the Obama administration. Chairman Eric Schmidt is a White House economic adviser, and Google’s former head of global public policy, Andrew McLaughlin, was Obama’s deputy chief technology officer.