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A big New York foundation once told me years ago that privacy
is the last thing people in the developing world have to worry about. It
was a nice way of saying no to funding for my consumer group's privacy
project, but the line rang out to me again this week as new reporting at
the Wall Street Journal brings into focus the great privacy betrayals of America's giant tech companies and Third World America makes its debut.

As a one-time homeless advocate, I know the housing, health care or
economic crisis can hit a family like a tornado and take away everything
in an instant. It's a more and more common scenario for two of every
ten Americans, likely to be hit with a foreclosure, a bankruptcy brought
on by medical bills, or a job loss. When you have your eye on your
job, your health care or your adjustable rate mortgage, it's hard to
keep track of anything else, let alone your online privacy, or how
Google defines "net neutrality."

America's big tech companies know this too and they are taking
advantage of the crisis to rewrite the rules of an open and free
Internet, and our privacy rights.

Virtually overnight Google -- the "don't be evil" guys -- did an about-face
on treating the Internet as a freeway, "net neutrality," and decided to
turn it into a toll road for big bidders and the ever expanding
wireless world.

Google says our data won't get caught in the slow lane, but it's hard
to believe any of the Internet Goliath's claims after reading the Wall
Street Journal's latest installment
of its excellent series on the loss of online privacy. The Journal
nails Google with internal documents showing how each of its services
tracks users' personal information online and the brainstorming inside
Googleplex about what can be done with the data. One great idea is to
potentially charge Google users for the right not to have their personal
information shared with advertisers.

Google's not the only offender, the WSJ found documents at Microsoft
as it went through the same type of internal debate about how to
monetize our online lives. But Google was supposed to be different, not
evil.

Some of the leading progressive groups in America were even shocked
at Google's thinly disguised net-neutrality reversal, but it's
consistent with the tech giant's rapid expansion and focus on economic
growth at the expense of principle. That's why Consumer Watchdog
launched Inside Google this Spring to report on such troubling developments at the company as the it veers from the principles it was founded upon.

It shouldn't be hard to believe large corporations would take
advantage of a crisis to betray Americans' trust. But the tech sector
was supposed to different, one of the most visible enduring symbols of
the American dream, now that home ownership, college education and job
security don't hold up. It's called high tech, after all, not big tech.
The executives must be getting high at Googleplex, though, if they
don't understand that they have handed the American political
establishment a huge opportunity to cut the Silicon Valley down to size.

A showdown in Washington, DC is inevitable. A recent Consumer Watchdog poll
found that more than 8 in 10 Americans support strong online privacy
protections, such as a "make me anonymous" button and a "do not track
me" list. Make no mistake, privacy and net neutrality are next up on
the Capitol stage. Americans will either win freedoms they have taken
for granted back, or curse yet another big industry that uses its
economic might and the rationale that all reform is a "job killer" to
protect itself at Americans' expense. Such is the plight of the middle
class today.

Privacy and net neutrality are nearly perfect issues for the middle
class to strike back at big tech for its latest betrayals because of the
overwhelming support of public opinion for online privacy and net
neutrality rights. A good start is signing a petition to the FCC
to use its power to stop the latest Google betrayal in its tracks and
keep the Internet a freeway. If there's one thing middle class America
needs now, it's a quick and solid victory. Online rights are an
opportunity for Washington to give us all a little piece of the American
dream back.


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