Andrew McLaughlin, the White House’s point man on Internet policy and a former Head of Global Public Policy for Google itself, had his list of contacts made public by Google Buzz. This is proving to be particularly embarrassing for McLaughlin, as the leak revealed, unsurprisingly, that he corresponds with many Google employees](). This has led to a FOIA request from Consumer Watchdog for McLaughlin’s emails to Google employees and questions about his independence from Google.
The open-government issues here are subtle. The public is entitled to government employees free of the taint of corruption and to policymaking free of backroom private influence. (This is not an endorsement of Consumer Watchdog’s overheated accusations, which are silly and harmful.) But government employees are also entitled to their own lives. I shudder to think that my every email might be open to inspection, or at the idea that I might need to sever all ties to anyone I’ve ever known.
What is not subtle here is the manifest unusability of Buzz’s initial privacy controls. As Big Government details, poor McLaughlin floundered as he tried to figure out how to use Buzz without making serious privacy mistakes. He’s a highly sophisticated Internet user with a Google-heavy network of contacts and his professional dignity at stake, and he still couldn’t get it right. What hope is there for the rest of us. This is defective product design and the law should start recognizing it as such.