Google on Thursday named former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari to head its Washington lobbying and policy office, as the search giant fights scrutiny by federal regulators over antitrust and privacy issues.

Molinari represented New York in the House from 1990 to 1997. She takes over from Alan Davidson, who recently left the firm after building the office from a small think-tank type of operation to a more powerful and traditional corporate influence, doubling its lobbying budget to $11 million in the last year.

“I am excited about Susan joining Google,” said David Drummond, the company’s senior vice president and chief legal officer. “She's a true trailblazer, and her enthusiasm for our technology and its potential to change lives will be a real asset to our team in the Americas.”

As vice president of public policy and government relations for the Americas, Molinari will manage Google’s policy advocacy in Washington and throughout North and South America, the company said.

She joins a company that is facing a deluge of criticism over its business practices as the dominant search engine for online users. Lawmakers, state attorneys general and consumer groups have called for investigations into the changes in Google’s privacy policy that go in effect March 1. The company plans to build more complete profiles of users by following them on all its services, including using content from Gmail messages. Google says it will use the information for tailored advertising. Privacy advocates and others say the firm’s access to the personal information of users -- who are not allowed to opt out — goes too far.

The company has also been accused of circumventing privacy settings of Apple iPhone browser Safari.

Observers say Google — which has been at the center of debates over Internet access and online copyright claims — has changed its approach to lobbying. It has hired more Republicans, and officials wanted a veteran politician to head the operations as Google responds to increasingly heated questions from lawmakers. Last fall, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was called to testify before Congress to defend the company’s business practices. Schmidt, an economic adviser to President Obama, has complained that Washington is using a heavy hand on tech companies whose innovations often outpace regulation.

Experts say that Schmidt and other Democrats in the Washington office have drawn suspicion from lawmakers that the firm is benefitting from government favoritism.

Google is under a Justice Department probe into antitrust concerns and a Federal Trade Commission investigation over whether the firm violated its privacy settlement with the government. If the FTC finds violations, Google could be fined up to $16,000 a day for each infraction.


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