Google’s Schmidt passes the buck on privacy

Wed, May 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Google’s Schmidt passes the buck on privacy

    With the classic timing of those who want to downplay bad news, Google responded late Friday afternoon to a letter of complaint issued by ten countries last month about the misfired rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application when Google exposed Gmail users’ personal e-mail contacts to the online world without user consent. The letter from privacy czars from Madrid to Tel Aviv called on Google to incorporate “fundamental privacy principles” into any new online services.

    Instead of responding himself,  Google CEO Eric Schmidt passed the buck to hired gun attorneys. In the May 7 posting,  lawyers Jane Horvath and Peter Fleischer  “shared” their “Dear Commissioners” letter faithfully repeating Google’s “5 Privacy Principles” and helpfully pointing these privacy experts to the FAQs, blogs and videos on Google’s site. The “Global Privacy Counsel” also bragged on the Dashboard, which they reveal logs 100,000 visitors a day, “85 percent for the first time.”

    (Wonder why they don’t go back? Maybe because it’s confusing: what is “Google Goggles” and why do I have it? And why is the Google Ads Preferences Manager in a separate location?)

    The letter also points to the Data Liberation Front (DLF), a Google site in the trappings of a revolutionary group from the Sixties, raised fist logo and all. From the FAQ:

    “What’s with the logo? It grew out of the fact that we see ourselves fighting for the freedom of the users.  So basically, it’s another joke. Har har har. :-)”

    A subversion of subversiveness, it seems, is a useful tool. More on DLF another time.

    I’m not the only one who sees this letter as a nose-thumbing response.

    At ReadWriteWeb, Mike Melanson asks:

    Google’s response reads as a laundry list of online locations where the company either speaks to privacy concerns or allows users to control their privacy settings, but does little to directly address the concerns voiced by the 10 data protection commissioners. Will its next product launch publicly expose our search histories, so long as we are provided “with valuable products and services”?

    Thanks for reminding me about my own values: Google is counting $$$ on my willingness to trade privacy for free stuff. Time to stand up and just say no.


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