Does Google Really Need a FCC Bailout?

Things must be rough at Google these days, what with its measly $75 billion in annual revenues and $16 billion in profits. But fortunately the Federal Communications Commission is stepping in to help them out.

That's at least what the FCC seems to be doing with its new proposal to shake up the set-top box industry. Under its proposal, the FCC ensures that Google can replace set-top boxes provided by cable companies such as Comcast and satellite providers such as DirectTV.

This FCC does seem to be very good to Google. So good, in fact, that the Future of TV Coalition is concerned that the FCC gave the tech giant an advance peek at its set-top box proposal prior to unveiling it in February.

Did the FCC give Google an advance look? It's hard to say, because thus far the FCC hasn't fully delivered on a public records request asking for communications between Google and FCC commissioners.

Until we see those records we won't know the whole truth, but it's fair to say Google is well represented in the Obama administration, including the FCC. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a Google lobbyist has had more than 60 meetings at the White House, where the Chief Technology Officer is a former Googler.

Which brings us back to Mr. Wheeler's set-top box proposal and how it's a boon to Google. The set-top box industry is a $20 billion industry - and Google wants a piece of it. Within days of the FCC proposal becoming public, the tech giant was offering demonstrations on how it could work.

But what problem is the FCC solving? Over the last decade, we have basked in a Golden Age of not only content, but the myriad of ways in which consumers can watch it wherever they are. And in the end, this is what it should be about: consumer choice.

Instead, under the guise of competition, consumers could be forced to deal with serious privacy concerns that - no surprise - give Google a more lucrative look into their lives. Google already knows what tens of millions of people do on their phones, laptops and tablets - and uses that information to make billions of dollars through advertising.

We have become accustomed that Google will serve us ads based on our Internet browsing history. We may not like that, but we live with it. Now imagine that when you are watching your television with your family via a new Google box, the ads on your TV are tied to your Internet searches. Now instead of generic commercials, you get ads about whatever you were searching: Viagra, how to find a divorce lawyer or a dating website.

That means more money for Google, and less privacy for you. And that troubles Americans. According to a recent survey commissioned by the Digital Citizens Alliance, 73 percent of Americans said it would bother them if ads related to their online browsing activity showed up while they were watching a program with family and friends.

In the end, the FCC cannot be a slot machine that always pays out for Google. The company is doing well enough as it is without government aid - especially when that aid is to the detriment of Americans' privacy.