Google’s WiFi Debacle Shows Internet Giant’s Lack of Concern for Consumers’ Privacy

Consumer Watchdog Calls on Government Agencies to Ensure Private Data is Deleted

SANTA MONICA, CA — An admission today that Google’s StreetView cars were gathering private information from WiFi networks shows the company’s lack of concern for privacy and the need for government inspection of the data the company is collecting and storing, Consumer Watchdog said.

The scandal only came to light because the German government raised concerns prompting Google to audit its practices. Consumer Watchdog said appropriate government agencies must now act to ensure that the ill-gotten information is completely deleted from the Internet giant’s massive global network of servers.

“Once again Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group. “Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Then a Google executive apologizes, mouthing bafflegab about how privacy matters to the company.”

“The takeaway from this incident is the clear need for government oversight and regulation of the data all online companies gather and store,” Simpson said. He said the Justice Department or the Federal Communications Commission should examine the Google case in the United States.

Consumer Watchdog said that Google’s announced plan to have an unnamed third party study what went wrong and to check that the improperly gathered private data has been eliminated is inadequate.

“That’s like getting to pick the referees in a championship football game,” said Simpson.

In its corporate blog post announcing the privacy invasion, Google said it would begin offering SSL encryption on its search engine next week. Earlier this year it began offering SSL encryption on its Gmail service as the default mode. Consumer Watchdog has been urging the company for two years to offer this protection and Simpson raised the issue with CEO Eric Schmidt in a question at the annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday.

“We’re delighted they are finally doing this,” Simpson said. “Now Google needs to factor privacy in from the beginning of all projects, rather than simply gathering as much data as it can, simply because it can. I hope they will learn a valuable lesson from this debacle.”

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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Consumer Watchdog’s website is Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website:

Published by John M. Simpson

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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