Is Consumer Watchdog Losing Credibility With its Google Feud?

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Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group that has criticized Google for its privacy policies, released a disturbing commercial cartoon featuring Google's chief executive creepily selling ice cream to children and saying, "There's no such thing as a free ice cream. ... Now, hold still while we collect some of your secrets."

The commercial, which plays in Time Square until Oct. 15, also urges those watching to contact their members of Congress to protest Google and other Internet companies collecting information without permission, as well as asking for a  "Do Not Track Me" list. Google was singled out for its "tone-deafness to privacy" said spokesman John Simpson.

Previously, Consumer Watchdog hammered Google for spying on members of Congress byuploading e-mail or Website viewing information while the search engine giant's vans were mapping out its Google Street View. The information was taken from the politicians' unsecured home wireless networks. Google said that it had collected the information accidentally and had isolated the material so it could not be used.  But no one seemed to be more critical than Consumer Watchdog, whose harsh criticism seemed to be a bit off-key. While Google did take information that wasn't expressly given to them, unsecured networks are available for anyone, even someone walking down the street to see.

The incident did spark some controversy with many questioning Google's motives for data collection and sparking a backlash against the company's latest user tracking to gather advertising data. Some questioned if Google's "Don't be evil" motto was in jeopardy.

But the latest volley from Consumer Watchdog, using CEO Eric Schmidt as a grotesque cartoon figure peddling ice cream to children, is way over the top.  There can be little doubt that the group is more than a little biased against the Internet titan and it should be making more people question the advocacy group's credibility. Are these people really out for your best interests or their own?

While I'm not saying that there isn't a valid argument for a "Do Not Track" list, Consumer Watchdog has given up any semblance of objectivity by continuing to target Google as Internet privacy's foe. Surely Facebook has given its users plenty of privacy worry, and hackers have routinely targeted big box stores to steal credit card numbers, so is the group setting its sights on Schmidt?

Yes, Schmidt did make a stupid, cavalier statement, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." (And he should know -- a tell-all blog by Schmidt's alleged mistress was swiftly taken down from Blogger, owned by Google, according to Valleywag.) And it's only justice that such a statement can be used against him.

However, a consumer advocacy group should maintain its objectivity so consumers can learn to trust their information and research. The group's existence should be solely to protect consumers and their interests. Otherwise the group looks like a biased organization blatantly gunning for someone to destroy in hopes of scoring some publicity.

Business owners and consumers should be mindful of this as they peruse the latest headlines and separate advocacy groups that truly seem to be fighting for the betterment of society and those that will do anything to gain publicity or notoriety.

Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter @bhern.

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