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Google’s privacy PR meaningless until CEO Schmidt gets it

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Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 5:10 pm

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Last Friday Google’s Christine Chen, posted an article about the Internet giant’s approach to privacy, complete with a set of 20 slides, but such efforts are nothing but empty public relations gestures until CEO Eric Schmidt demonstrates he gets it.

So far he has failed miserably.

In a recent interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo he offered this view of privacy:

"If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities

Watch Schmidt’s comment for yourself.

There are, of course, all sorts of things that you do that aren’t wrong at all that are done with the expectation of privacy. They are perfectly normal, but with the expectation of privacy — like going to the toilet. And there are many things that are perfectly appropriate that I might do online where privacy makes sense. If I were searching for information about a personal medical condition, I’d likely want that kept private.

The problem is that Google tracks all this stuff, and follows me around the Web gathering all kinds of data about my behavior and stores it in its servers. That’s Googles gold mine, providing the data that is at the heart of its advertising business. We need the right to tell Google to make me anonymous and to control how data about us is used.

Now Schmidt is saying that all the  information about you and me his company has amassed is available to the government. No need to worry unless you’re doing something wrong in the first place.

Chen writes in her blog post:

"Online privacy has been on a lot of people’s minds lately, including ours. As Google has grown, it’s only natural that people have questions about how we handle information…

"So over the past several weeks, we’ve been spending time with policymakers, consumer advocates, think tanks, trade associations, and journalists to chat about Google’s approach to privacy. As you can see from this presentation, we’ve talked about our guiding privacy principles, explained what search logs look like, and discussed how we use data to improve our products and services."

Schmidt’s statement is remarkable, showing a fundamental misunderstanding of what privacy is all about on the part of Google’s chief executive. It will take a lot more than 20-page slide shows and the repeated mantra, "Privacy is important to us" before I believe these geeks understand what privacy is all about and why it matters.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 362 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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