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Model’s “skank” suit highlights Google privacy issues

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Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm

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A model’s suit to force Google to identify an anonymous blogger highlights the privacy issues surrounding many of Google’s services.

According to The Washington Post and Online Media Daily, model  Liskula Cohen is suing to compel the Internet giant to identify the blogger who called her a "skank."

Google’s position is that it protects a user’s privacy unless compelled to release the identity by court order.  It’s not clear how the case will play out;  the next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26.

I don’t want to discuss whether the comments were inappropriate or defamatory as Cohen alleges. What is clear, though, is that Google compiles huge amounts of identifiable personal data on users of its services. Most users, I suspect, don’t understand how much identifiable information flows to Google in an unnoticed conversation with the company’s servers. Check our videos to see what’s at stake.

Google’s position now is that it  will "only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order."  Depending on the type of case that can be relatively easy to obtain. And, who’s to say that Google won’t change its policy tomorrow? What about hackers or a rogue employee who access the data?

Internet users should be able to control how much of their personal data companies collect and keep.  That’s why Google needs to add an "anonymizer" clearly available across all its services so users can control what happens to their personal data.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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