Oh, sorry, that’s Facebook, whose tentacles are constantly expanding throughout the web, but not in Washington. Sen. Charles Schumer and colleagues have posted an open letter on Facebook’s wall demanding to know just how the social network’s privacy options work.
In the meantime, Google continues to track, store, and process user data from various points in order to build advertising profiles – a practice which raises concerns not only about privacy, but about reach. In fact, Google’s signature service, search, has a much lower barrier to entry than Facebook’s; while Facebook makes you create an account and is thematically based on the idea of sharing personal information, Google’s search service is open to anyone trackable by IP address.
So why does Facebook get a nasty letter while Google gets a pass?
It may have something to do with the fact that Google spent $1.38 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2010 alone. More significant than the actual dollars spent is the intellectual investment: Google has clearly made it a priority to be a Washington, DC player on both sides of the aisle. This level of involvement positions Google as a resource, preventing policymakers from seeing what is an obvious parallel.
In assembling his team, President Obama has been staunch in his public statements that lobbyists would not find a revolving door from their private sector work into his administration.
His administration? Not quite as staunch. Spokesman Robert Gibbs has already admitted that there may be “reasonable exceptions” to the no-lobbyist rule for folks like Bill Lynn (who was a lobbyist for a defense contractor before being named to the #2 spot in the Department of Defense) and Bill Corr (the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services who used to lobby the department of Health and Human Services). Gibbs claimed that each could assume their positions under waivers to the ethics rules.
Could Richard Nixon have summed it up any better? (“Well, if the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”)
Instead of the political grandstanding with sweeping regulations he didn’t intend to follow anyway, President Obama should have pursued a different strategy that he has been claiming all along: transparency. A simple index of any previous lobbying activity by any member of the Administration – available online – would have allowed our new President a chance to make a statement against DC influence peddling without looking like a hypocrite.