Google Inc (GOOG): Is It About Transparency, or Street Cred?

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Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) by itself is one of the most powerful lobbyists on behalf of the tech industry in Washington. And right now, its credibility and trustworthiness has been slammed against the wall by the revelation of the National Security Agency PRISM online surveillance program and Google’s implied role in the compilation of user data to help the government monitor e-mails and other communications online.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been facing quite a bit of backlash, but it might not be so much for the implication of involvement in the PRISM program, as much as it could have been a reaction to the company’s tepid denial of involvement. As several of the other implicated tech companies came forward to say they were not complicit in the program and they did not grant “direct access” to servers as was claimed, Google joined Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) not so much in being adamant about restricting access but rather saying in effect, “we only gave out user data that was legally required of us, and only to the minimum extent of the law.”

And since many Americans don’t exactly know what the “minimum extent” of the law is, the presumption was quickly made that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) might have given away the farm because the government demanded it. In the wake of this, Google claims it wants more transparency in its government data request reporting, so this week the company filed a motion with the foreign intelligence surveillance court (specially created by FISA) to allow for companies like Google to reveal more their bi-annual transparency reports – in other words, give the companies flexibility to separate the “criminal requests” from the “national security requests” by government agencies at local, state and national levels, and allow companies to report how many or the types of accounts that are affected by the requests.

Part of the Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) motion reflected on the company’s reputation being harmed by the leaked information about PRISM, and Google wants to opportunity to legally be able to provide information that essentially absolves itself from being complicit in the surveillance. Google does claim that transparency in the disclosure process will be effective in protecting users when they have knowledge of these types of requests.  But is this really about the users’ privacy, or is it about Google?

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