Back from tracking Google’s Eric Schmidt

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I’m just back from Washington, D.C., where we dramatized the need to give consumers online privacy protection with Consumer Watchdog’s “track-in” event. We timed it to coincide with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee.

The highlight came as our “Google Track Team” – three professional mimes, Consumer Watchdog Washington Director Carmen Balber and I – tracked Schmidt as he left the hearing. You can see a slide show of our Google Track Team in action above.

The day started with our attempt to deliver free ice cream to Google’s top lobbyist, Pablo Chavez, at his home on Capitol Hill. We Googled him and used the Internet to figure out where he lives. Nobody answered the door when we arrived.  The ice cream truck theme ties in with our first animated avatar style video, “Don’t Be Evil?” After the stop at Chavez’s house, we handed out ice cream around Capitol Hill.

Here is our latest satrical video, "Supercharge," which features CEO Larry Page as well as Schmidt.

During the lunch hour the mimes swung into action in the Dirksen Senate Office Building obnoxiously tracking Congressional staffers as they left the cafeteria.  A Capitol police officer decided I was in charge and told me, “I understand the point of the demonstration is to be annoying, but please don’t track police officers doing their job.”  We stuck with the staff.

As a media stunt it was a lot of fun.  It also drew coverage from just about every TV station in town and we made a serious point:  Tracking people in the real world is stalking. It’s creepy. When Google and other Internet companies follow your every move online, it’s just as creepy, but it’s their business model. That’s why consumers need a way to stop being tracked when they surf the web. Three takeaways from the week:

  • The antitrust hearing brought tough questions from Senators and demonstrated that questions are just beginning for Google.
  • Our track-in stunts helped put privacy issues on the Senate’s map. We backed up our pranks by submitting testimony to the Antitrust Subcommittee and meeting with key Senate staff and reporters.
  • Do Not Track legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and House. We’ll be co-sponsoring an event Oct. 11 at the National Press Club where it will be discussed.

So, please check out the slide show and share the link. Tell your Congressman and Senator you back Do Not Track legislation.

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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