Mr. Google Goes to Washington

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — Internet giant Google hasn’t always done things by the book, but a recent decision to join the Washington lobbying world full-force could be a sign that the firm is growing up.

Google, which has been the focus of government attention on fronts ranging from privacy to copyright infringement, has hired several lobbying firms that have ties to Republican leaders like Party Chairman Ken Mehlman, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Sen. John McCain.

Last year Google retained the services of the bipartisan lobbying firm Podesta Mattoon. A consultant for that firm, Lauren Maddox, believes that the lobbyists will help Google plead its case on everything from privacy to business practices in China.

Google recently won a mixed victory against the government, when a federal court ordered the firm to turn over 5,000 Internet addresses. However, the court stopped short of ordering Google to disclose 5,000 search queries. While that victory drew praise from privacy advocates, the Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concerns at the time that a larger problem still loomed because Google still had a stockpile of private data that government regulators could seek access to at a later date.

While some lament the sight of an Internet rebel making establishment inroads, Google sees the move as a chance to lobby for its core values.

"We've staked out an agenda that really is about promoting the open Internet as a revolutionary platform for communication," Alan Davidson, policy counsel for Google, said. "It's been the growth of Google as a company and as a presence in the industry that has prompted our engagement in Washington."

An upcoming engagement to watch is the fight over whether or not fees should be charged for heavy data traffic, like streaming video.

"Our belief is that this is going to be an issue of great concern for consumers," Davidson said. "The telephone companies have been lobbying these committees for generations. Our industry is very young."