Latest Facebook privacy intrusion touches Google

In the latest revelation in a seemingly never ending stream of privacy breaches by online companies,  we now know that  Facebook and MySpace have been sending consumers’ personal information to advertisers despite promises that they don’t share such data without consent.

And Google, already scrambling with its own all-hands-on-deck response to its WiSpy gaffe, is peripherally implicated in the social networking privacy fiasco.  The Internet giant’s DoubleClick and Yahoo!’s Right Media ad networks were among those on the receiving end of the ill-gotten data from the social networking sites.

Both companies stress that although they got the information, they did not use it. But given Google’s WiSpy stumble don’t be surprised if many folks say, “Really? Why should we believe you?” Remember with WiSpy the Internet giant  first said it wasn’t gathering communications from WiFi networks, then flip-flopped and admitted it had made a “mistake” and actually was doing so.

The Wall Street Journal broke the social network story Thursday evening based on research by Harvard Prof. Ben Edelman.  Coincidentally Edelman met over breakfast with my colleague Jamie Court and me Thursday morning to discuss our mutual concerns about online privacy and other Internet abuses.

Edelman briefed us on his findings about Facebook and we encouraged him to file a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.  He came back to the Consumer Watchdog office and wrote.

What conclusions can we draw from this string of privacy intrusions?

I ‘d say these constant gaffes demonstrate a Silicon Valley mindset all too common among computer engineers: Push the envelope; gather as much data as you can. Don’t ask permission; you can always ask forgiveness.

That may have been excusable when these were cute, cuddly start-ups in garages and dorm rooms.  But those days over. They are now global giants.

It’s time Google and Facebook grew up and started to act responsibly.  Where’s the adult leadership when we need it?

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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