As we reported a few weeks ago, White House Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin became ensnared in the Google Buzz privacy controversy when his Gmail contacts were made publicly available through his Buzz profile, which included 28 senior Google lobbyists and lawyers.
The controversy has prompted a slew of letters and FOIA requests to the White House and Department of Justice from watchdog groups. Last week, Congressman Darrell Issa sent a letter to McLaughlin asking whether the deputy CTO may have been using Gmail to communicate with his former employer, thus circumventing the laws associated with openness and transparency. Issa gave McLaughlin a deadline of this week to answer a series of questions on what the Deputy CTO is doing to comply with official recordkeeping rules.
Now we’ve learned that another ex-Googler working in the Administration, Katie Jacobs Stanton, has been snagged by Google’s lax privacy settings as well. Like McLaughlin, Stanton — the New Media Director at the State Department — had 17 Google employees in her Gmail account exposed in the Buzz privacy flap, as the screenshots below indicate:
Katie Jacobs Stanton was President Obama’s appointee to the newly created position of Director of Citizen Participation in March of 2009 and recently moved to the State Department as the New Media Director. Her previous responsibilities at Google included Google Moderator, Google Finance and Google’s Open Social initiative.
While Stanton’s Buzz followers aren’t as jam-packed with Google lawyers and lobbyists as McLaughlin’s Buzz profile, her contacts are interesting nonetheless. Googler Ginny Hunt for instance, shows up in Stanton’s profile and is the head of the mysteriously-named Google Public Sector Lab.
What’s the Google Public Sector Lab? Who knows… There’s no website that we were able to find and very little information about what it actually does. But a post by Ms. Hunt on Google’s official blog suggests that the Public Sector Lab is involved in Google’s government business through Google for the Public Sector, the division that provides a “one stop shop of tools and tips that local, state and federal government officials can use.”
Ironically, Hunt also posted about Google’s partnership with the Sunlight Foundation’s Public=Online campaign, which urges citizens to “hold public officials accountable for being open and transparent.” Google provides financial support to the Sunlight Foundation and Google’s Kim Scott sits on the board.
Setting aside for a moment the practicality or usefulness of conveying official government policy in 140 characters or less via Twitter, Buzz and other social media tools, Stanton’s publicly available social media posts cross-posted at Buzz and Twitter under her KateAtState moniker also offer some delicious insight into the world of the new social media Googlecrats:
The mundane and trivial…
the policy oriented…
and, not surprisingly, what looks a lot like Google flackery…
Her first tweet above is about Google Public Data Explorer, a tool to make Google visualizations of government data more useful. Who’s in charge of Google’s Public Data Explorer? It’s apparently this guy, Ola Rosling, from Stanton’s Buzz contacts:
Rosling is the product manager for the service and also the son of Hans Rosling, a Swedish inventor who developed a statistical software package called Trendalyzer acquired by Google in 2007. Thus, the more government data Google can get its hands on, the more valuable the Trendalyzer software package becomes… to Google.
Stanton’s second tweet is interesting as well. Here she links to a fawning blog post by Tim O’Reilly about the Haiti earthquake and all of the cool Google tools people can use to track the action. O’Reilly posts that “Google quickly sprang into action reusing many Haiti built tools”, followed by links to Google’s Crisis Response page, person finder built on Google’s AppEngine, and Google’s Mapmaker download.
Stanton’s third tweet posts a link to a Google Maps mashup showing “The Best of Health Care Floor Debates”… from Republicans! It’s a mashup created by the House GOP Conference with links to all speeches “against the government takeover of health care.” While Republicans probably appreciated Stanton publicizing their speeches against “government run health care”, skeptics might point out that this looks suspiciously like flackery for yet another product from Stanton’s ex-employer.
In fairness, Ms. Stanton is a prolific twitterer and promotes other tools like Facebook in her tweets as well. Her job in fact, appears to be working “with technologists and diplomats to harness IT” as part of 21st century statecraft, as was recently pointed out in this interview with Stanton for Federal Computer Week.
But that’s where things can get dicey and where Stanton’s Buzz contacts take on new and potentially significant meaning. In contrast to McLaughlin’s contacts which were mostly senior lobbyists and lawyers pushing for policies that affect Google and its competitors, Stanton’s contacts appear to be dominated by those Googlers involved in developing the types of IT products that the federal government and State Department might use or purchase. That’s not necessarily a problem assuming federal procurement rules are being followed. But, federal procurement is a rigorous and exacting process designed to protect against the favoritism and cozy relationships that can occur when big corporate supporters of a President’s campaign look for payback through lucrative government contracts when their candidate takes office.
Google was a huge supporter of President Obama’s campaign, contributing over $800,000 to his election effort. CEO Eric Schmidt and Google’s senior execs were early supporters of the campaign and actively stumped for the candidate, with Schmidt even serving as an economic adviser during the campaign. After Obama was elected, Schmidt and several other Google executives contributed $25,000 apiece to pay for a huge inaugural bash. Google was rewarded with Schmidt’s appointment to Obama’s Council of Science and Technology Advisers.
In fact, Federal Computer Week hints at the cozy relationship between the search titan and the Administration in its February interview with Stanton:
These days, Foggy Bottom has Silicon Valley’s back, as illustrated by Clinton’s public request that the Chinese government investigate allegations that recent cyberattacks on Google originated in China.
The Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher goes further, pointing out in February that “it will likely be like they never left the Googleplex in Silicon Valley if this Washington, D.C invasion of execs from the search giant keeps up.” Swish pointed out that there are many potential issues surrounding “so many key appointments in the tech arena going to one company, especially one so immersed now in national and international policy issues.”
Andrew McLaughlin’s answers this week to Congressman Issa’s letter may shed some light on the nature of his email communications with lobbyists from his ex-employer. But Stanton’s Buzz contacts raise more questions about the murky world of Google’s partnership with the federal government and whether ex-Googlers in the Administration are serving the interests of the taxpayer or the interests of Google. In any case, Congressman Issa might want to keep his pen handy.
Incidentally, like McLaughlin, Stanton’s Buzz profile has now been deleted.