Google is getting nervous.
On the one hand, the Internet behemoth wants the public to know it’s outraged by U.S. surveillance programs and is aggressively lobbying for new rules to keep its customers’ data safe from the government’s prying eyes.
But as public attention turns to data privacy, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and other tech giants want to be sure that their own data-gathering practices don’t get lumped in with the federal spying programs that are the target of popular ire.
At the top of their worry list: The White House is holding the two up side-by-side. In President Obama’s speech in January outlining National Security Agency reforms, he also ordered a John Podesta-led review of “big data,” the collection and storage of massive amounts of personal information-including by private companies.
The implicit message from the White House is that while the public has raised legitimate privacy concerns about NSA spying, similar data-mining practices by private companies shouldn’t escape scrutiny.
So when White House officials invited outside input from the public on the “big data” review, the tech world’s loudest voices were more than happy to offer an earful. The companies’ oft-repeated message to the administration: Don’t conflate your spying practices with our data-privacy plans.
“We urge the administration to be cognizant that government surveillance and commercial privacy are separate and distinct issues,” the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others, wrote in a comment. “Given that Internet companies aim to provide transparency, choice, and control to consumers, efforts to conflate these issues are counterproductive, particularly given how little transparency citizens currently have when it comes to government surveillance.”
BSA-a software lobbying group that includes Apple, Microsoft, and IBM-urged the White House to make all efforts to “avoid conflating government and commercial interests in data.”
One technology-industry lobbyist said there is widespread frustration with the White House for conducting the big-data and NSA reviews in parallel.
“Companies have very specific relationships with their users, and they tell them what they’re doing with their data,” the tech lobbyist said, adding that it is an “apples and oranges” comparison to NSA surveillance.
Read more: NATIONAL JOURNAL