FCC Pulls Emily Litella on Google Wi-Spy, Fails to Protect Public Interest

by Mike Wendy on May 3, 2012

Just read Paragraph 53 (below), outlining the FCC’s main findings from its (controversial) Google Wi-Spy order:

"Inability" - FCC's apparent willful blindness

To paraphrase this FCC conclusion:

“Apart from the massive disrespect shown by Google to the Commission – sort of as if they own us – the FCC determines that no law has been broken.  All that said, we can’t we really determine no law was broken because the star witness has refused to testify for fear of criminally incriminating himself.”

To continue:

“So, for disrespect, and not the broken law – which we can’t really determine anyway – we’re fining Google some totally inconsequential amount to its corporate bottom line (essentially equal to its lunch latte bill), and then pulling an Emily Litella on whether Americans’ privacy was in fact invaded because…”

Because?

“…Clearly, when you look at how we deal with Google, and then look at how we continually kneecap AT&T and other large network communications providers (except Sprint, of course), it’s clear two versions of protecting the ‘public interest’ emerge: One which rewards Google as it gun-slings Americans’ privacy rights away with impunity; and one which punishes network incumbents, presuming their ‘guilt’.”

To conclude:

“So, never mind, Google (pssst, we’ve got your back, Larry and Sergei).  The big telecomm companies only want to provide jobs and new broadband connectivity to Americans.  Big deal.  But you want to expropriate Americans’ penumbras and emanations – their privacy rights – to fuel your important business model.  So, we’re here to help.”

Many of my colleagues and industry experts talk a big game about about two key planks in helping our industry remain (largely) unregulated –  that is, reputation management, and the use of present enforcement tools as a consumer protection backstop.  Their silence to condemn this Emily Litella report is deafening.

Clearly, reputation management as a method of self-regulation greatly challenges recidivist Google (as Scott Cleland reveals).  And, as to enforcement tools, the FCC (as well as the FTC and DoJ) seem to have “forgotten” to bring their Kryptonite to the fight.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t wish there’d be more enforcement actions. Rather, if they are going to be employed, they should be used in a meaningful, even-handed and transparent manner.

Allowing an enforcement action to fail because the star witness refused to testify seems wrong and weak (just imagine if MCI’s Bernie Ebbers were as successful in blocking his testimony as Google’s “Enginer Doe”?).  Moreover, it makes a mockery of the process which helps all players play fair and serve the public.

Never mind” is no way to run an agency.  It is no way to help our economy.  It is no way to protect the “public interest.”

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