Some of the anti-Google tea party is Astroturf

A jaundiced eye is always welcome. But let's not pretend that all this Google hatred is some sort of organic grassroots welling of consumer voices. It's not.

Some of the distrust felt toward Google in 2010 is organic.

It's a natural reaction to success. Actors, athletes, and politicians all get the treatment. You're raised up and people immediately try to take you down.

(Evil Google logo from Scroogled via Tech Republic.)

Some of it is a dislike of bigness, of big institutions, especially of big databases. Distrust of the government's collection of data on individuals can easily be transferred to Google, which probably has more on you than Uncle Sam does.

What might they do with all that data? What are their motives, really? And no matter what their motives are today, couldn't they change tomorrow?

But some of it is as grassrooty as Richard Armey's FreedomWorks, or the many "public campaigns" engaged in by Richard Berman on behalf of corporate clients. Some of the Google hate is Astroturf.

I've mentioned one of the Astroturfers here many times. Scott Cleland has made a career of shilling for Bell company causes. Taking down Google means his Bell friends face less competition. It's embarrassing for a monopoly to be worth less than a start-up.

Not that the people agitated by the Astroturfing, the faces in the ground, are anything but well-meaning. That's the beauty of the thing. But it's important to look behind the curtain at any movement and note who is pulling the strings.

Take John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog. Less than a year after rebranding himself from the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the former newspaper editor launched his anti-Google jihad.

His biggest headline so far is a call for Google to be broken up, a call that gained traction after it was revealed Google was caching data from WiFi hotspots, and agreed to cut its data retention policy on IP searches to nine months.

Anything Google does, Simpson hates. Google Books? Monopoly. Google Street View? Privacy violation. Google data retention policies? Too long. Google keyword pricing policies? Illegal, whatever they are.

While Simpson's own feelings are genuine, driven according to The Washington Post by the loss of his own journalism career under pressure from online competition, he freely admits to being a professional "hell-raiser," with foundation grants and what he calls a "professional" alliance with Google's corporate rivals, Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo.

In short he's a hired gun. If his campaign on stem cells were gaining more attention he would focus more on that.

There is nothing inherently wrong in any of this. Scrutiny of big companies is fine. A jaundiced eye is always welcome. But let's not pretend that all this Google hatred is some sort of organic grassroots welling of consumer voices.

It's not. Politics is just another forum for corporate competition. Whenever a lynch mob develops against anyone, look closely at the checkbooks behind it before grabbing for your pitchfork.


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