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Did Microsoft Hire Consumer Watchdog to Attack Google?

Posted in Google, Marketing, Microsoft at 8:36 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: A look beneath the surface reveals that ConsumerWatchdog.org is “the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights”, which is affiliated with/derived from Grassroots Enterprise, a Washington/SF-based AstroTurfer for hire

FOR A verifiable fact, Microsoft is the biggest lobbying monster in its area. Someone has just informed us that ConsumerWatchdog.org is apparently a lobby used by Microsoft (mostly to attack Google), so we decided to investigate this. Having already found some Microsoft-backed anti-Google lobbies in the past [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], we took a look at this latest company’s background and dug a lot deeper. Let’s see what ConsumerWatchdog.org says about Microsoft and what ConsumerWatchdog.org has to say about Google. What a striking difference.

Looking at ConsumerWatchdog.org using enhanced tools (the likes of them sometimes use services like DomainsByProxy.com), we find the following record:

Domain ID:D863261-LROR
Created On:03-Jun-1997 04:00:00 UTC
Last Updated On:07-Jun-2008 00:26:36 UTC
Expiration Date:02-Jun-2010 04:00:00 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:GoDaddy.com, Inc. (R91-LROR)
Registrant ID:GODA-044511122
Registrant Name:Doug Heller
Registrant Organization:Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rig
Registrant Street1:1750 Ocean Park Blvd.
Registrant Street2:Ste 200
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Santa Monica
Registrant State/Province:California
Registrant Postal Code:90405
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.3103920522
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email:webmaster@consumerwatchdog.org
Admin ID:GODA-244511122
Admin Name:Doug Heller
Admin Organization:Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rig
Admin Street1:1750 Ocean Park Blvd.
Admin Street2:Ste 200
Admin Street3:
Admin City:Santa Monica
Admin State/Province:California
Admin Postal Code:90405
Admin Country:US
Admin Phone:+1.3103920522
Admin Phone Ext.:
Admin FAX:
Admin FAX Ext.:
Admin Email:doug@consumerwatchdog.org
Tech ID:GODA-144511122
Tech Name:Domain Direct
Tech Organization:TUCOWS.com Inc.
Tech Street1:96 Mowat Avenue
Tech Street2:
Tech Street3:
Tech City:Toronto
Tech State/Province:Ontario
Tech Postal Code:M6K3M1
Tech Country:CA
Tech Phone:+1.4165350123
Tech Phone Ext.:
Tech FAX:+1.4165315584
Tech FAX Ext.:
Tech Email:dnstech@domaindirect.com

See that last bit? It’s important. Consumerwatchdog.org is linked to Grassroots.com, which is Grassroots Enterprise.

Grassroots Enterprise is not about grassroots. It’s about AstroTurfing. Sourcewatch wrote:

According to the company’s web site, Grassroots Enterprise, Inc., led by its CEO, John Hlinko, “combines online technology and communications strategy to help our clients achieve their public affairs objectives. Our proprietary technology Grassroots Multiplier® uses the Internet to centralize and simplify the recruitment, management, and mobilization of our clients’ supporters – employees, members, customers, vendors and other stakeholders who can grow into a long-term asset to our clients’ business.”

It’s a business. It hires people to do jobs for companies (clients).

According to Wikipedia, “Consumer Watchdog (USA), [is] an organization which advocates for taxpayer and consumer interests in the United States,” but it also states that it is “formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.” So they change names; that’s what companies and lobbies typically do when they get exposed or absorb a bad reputation. It’s a well known and basic strategy in PR.

Oiaohm found out that the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (aka Consumerwatchdog.org) even has a subsite on Grassroots.com. Why is this not surprising? They probably just try to escape the obvious affiliation which would be damaging to their credibility. Lobbyists tend to have multiple umbrellas, which make them runaway targets. See for example Jonathan Zuck, who seems to have turned ATL into ACT after it had been exposed massively (think about fake letters from dead people).

Going back to Grassroots Enterprise, watch just what they boast about:

Are you ready to get your volunteers and members to mobilize the vote for you in 2008?

With the Grassroots Multiplier℠ PhoneTheVote application, they can actually be mobile as they mobilize. This innovative alternative to traditional phonebanks gives your activists and volunteers the ability to carry a powerful political application right in their pocket!

Grassroots Multiplier℠ PhoneTheVote takes the traditional phone bank into the web 2.0 generation by empowering your stakeholders to log on and make phone calls on your behalf — for get out the vote efforts, fundraising, grassroots mobilization, or just for rapid dissemination of information.

With Grassroots Multiplier℠ PhoneTheVote your volunteer callers can be directed to make calls wherever they are need — by geographic location, demographic, political affiliation, or any number of categories. Your volunteers can also be given dynamically generated “just-in-time” customized phone scripts to maximize their impact. And best of all, the information that the volunteers collect is feed into a central database in real time.

They brag about AstroTurfing patents/trademarks, just like the ones from Waggener Edstrom. How deep can this really go?

Microsoft AstroTurf stories:

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  1. Doug Heller said,

    May 4, 2009 at 12:47 pm


    Please see http://www.consumerwatchdog.org for our 20+year record. As you will see, our consumer advocacy work has saved consumers over $60 billion on auto insurance alone. We’ve also won patient rights laws and fought electricity deregulation and attempts to bail out utilities with ratepayer money.

    As for Grassroots Enterprise, that company is our website host. We pay them for their server space and to use their webpage templates in order to build our site. We are no more “affiliated with/derived from” them than we are with our telephone service provider Verizon or Apple Computer, which sold us some iMacs.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:


    Please see http://www.consumerwatchdog.org for our 20+year record. As you will see, our consumer advocacy work has saved consumers over $60 billion on auto insurance alone. We’ve also won patient rights laws and fought electricity deregulation and attempts to bail out utilities with ratepayer money.

    This does not address the subject of this post however. I also hear about ACT “helping small businesses, yadda yadda…”

    As for Grassroots Enterprise, that company is our website host. We pay them for their server space and to use their webpage templates in order to build our site. We are no more “affiliated with/derived from” them than we are with our telephone service provider Verizon or Apple Computer, which sold us some iMacs.

    I was unable to find a products/services page in Grassroots.com, but this one seems like the equivalent section:


    Are they also doing hosting? I can’t find any information about that. How many companies do they provide hosting for? Where can one sign up?

    Shane Coyle Reply:

    Firstly, as always, thank you to Mr Heller for stopping by and contributing to the discussion. Clarifications are always welcome.

    I just checked out that grassroots.com/what link and I can’t help but feel like I need a shower, I’m just not sure they make water hot enough to make me feel clean again.

    # Engaging them over time via a variety of online communication techniques, including, of course, email (***this is the step most people leave out, but it’s the most critical)
    # Monitor the online universe — news sites, blogs, the social media, etc. — to figure out how our client or its issues are being perceived, and actively shape that perception.
    # Create and execute online programs that drive stakeholders to join our client’s campaign (through paid advertising, buzz building, viral marketing and earned media)
    # Work with our 50-state field network to find “grasstops” influentials — individuals with unique relationships in key markets that we can leverage
    # Build in-depth behavioral profile of each stakeholder, and identify mavens (or Multipliers) in the mix
    # Spur stakeholders to take action we want, measure results in real real-time, and adjust the campaign as necessary

    Perhaps a new name is in order for grassroots.com, since Astroturf hasn’t any roots that I’m aware of.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    When someone pays you to just attack something you don’t even care about, then it’s even worse than AstroTurfing. The non-technical term is “attack dog”, I suspect.

  2. Doug Heller said,

    May 4, 2009 at 2:56 pm


    As you will see from the reporting on our battle with Google, it is funded with a grant from the privacy rights oriented Rose Foundation, based in California. At one point, Google contacted that charitable foundation trying to defund us. Here’s more on that from Congressional Quarterly: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/corporateering/articles/?storyId=25070 and a detailed rundown from my colleague: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/corporateering/articles/?storyId=25152

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    As you will see from the reporting on our battle with Google, it is funded with a grant from the privacy rights oriented Rose Foundation, based in California.

    So it’s true that you are basically hired as a gun against Google. What’s in it for them?

    I notice that you also avoid my questions, which seems like a diversion tactic.

  3. Eruaran said,

    May 5, 2009 at 10:32 am


    Sorry Doug, but your website is so outrageously biased that it is impossible to take you seriously. I find it extraordinary that an alleged “consumer watchdog” has so much time for attacking Google that a search for “Microsoft” on your website delivers up *not* articles that might in any way at all relate to Microsoft’s ongoing harms to competitors and consumers alike, but rather it delivers up a veritable catwalk of articles which attack Google.

    Even some of the most notorious Microsoft boosting sellouts can to a better job at the appearance of impartiality.

    And Grassroots Enterprise is not something that any reputable consumer watchdog group would want their name in any way associated with, purely for the sake of credibility.

    As someone who works in this industry daily and all too frequently sees and experiences the fruits of Microsoft’s anticompetitive activities I for one have no time for diplomacy with people like you who so mendaciously ignore the biggest elephant in the room.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    This elephant is getting less big today.

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