Consumer Watchdog Hopes To Lick Google

Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    It’s been a Google love fest these past few weeks in the tech world. Whether it’s buzz about their new TV service launching this fall in the U.S., Gmail’s Priority Inbox rolling out in Canada last week, or the company’s new computer phone service that lets you call mobiles and land lines for free, Google continues to roll out noteworthy and useful innovations.

    While I’ve never made a conscious effort to adopt all things Google, over the years I’ve been enticed — for one reason or another — into using their many tools and services. Moreover, I’m a proud user, turning up my nose at other free e-mail platforms and search engine competition. After all, what could be wrong with handing over all my personal information to a company whose corporate motto is “Don’t be evil”?

    Well, if you’re part of the Consumer Watchdog team, there are few issues that are more important than Google’s online dominance. As part of their Inside Google site, the non-profit group aims to keep “Google engineers accountable to social mores, ethical customs and the rule of law.” They’re so keen on educating the public about Google aggressively gathering personal information that they’ve produced a 90-second animated video that is now, ironically, rising up the ranks on YouTube and playing on a jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square.

    The animated creation portrays Google CEO Eric Schmidt as a creepy old dude riding around in an ice cream truck offering up free treats to little kids. The high-tech vehicle conducts body scans of the children to capture their personal information and “Schmidt” shares news with the little ones about their parents’ web surfing habits. According to Consumer Watchdog, they are hoping the video will encourage people to create a “Do Not Track Me” list that will prevent Internet companies from invading consumers’ privacy (just like the “Do Not Call” lists).

    Although the advocacy group’s goal is perhaps well-intentioned, the video misses the point. It’s uncomfortable to watch and it’s so over the top that it verges on being funny, in an odd web way. However, a day after the spot appeared on a giant screen in Manhattan, Google wrote a blog post stating that they’re simplifying and updating their privacy policies in order to make things more transparent to end users. These revisions will take effect early next month in an effort to keep diehard users like myself confident that Google is good.

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