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Consumer Watchdog: Google Should Increase Privacy Efforts

By PHOENIX BUSINESS JOURNAL

Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 11:49 am

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Consumer Watchdog wants Google Inc. to implement more privacy protections in its e-mail and search systems as it may be looking at e-mails coming and going from GMail accounts.

Google has inked e-mail and search-engine agreements with a number of private companies and public employers, including Arizona State University and the state of Arizona. The Mountain View, Calif-based Internet company also recently agreed to share search information with federal agencies to help the track influenza outbreaks.

The California-based consumer group says Google can scan or examine e-mails from systems other than GMail as long as one of the senders has a GMail account.

Google, which is closing an engineering center in Tempe, said e-mail scanning is par for the course within in the industry and that it offers privacy options for users.

“Virtually all e-mail services scan your e-mail to provide such popular features as spam filtering, virus detection, search, spell checking, and the automatic saving and sorting into folders. Google also uses this scanning technology to deliver targeted text ads and other related information. This is completely automated and involves no humans,” said a Google spokesman in an e-mail to the Phoenix Business Journal.

“We build strong privacy and security protections into all Google products, and users can control their privacy settings, such as turning on encryption in GMail or going off the record in Google Talk, or even using some services anonymously. Our team has spoken with Consumer Watchdog, and we welcome feedback from users and consumer advocates on potential new features and privacy controls,” said the spokesman.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Tuesday that the company is concerned that implementing more privacy options and safeguards could cut into the speed of its services and search engines.

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