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Online views soar in overwhelming response to Inside Google video

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Mon, Sep 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm

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Online views soar in overwhelming response to Inside Google video

Response to our video “Don’t Be Evil?” lampooning Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt’s attitude toward privacy has been overwhelming since we launched it with a jumbotron digital ad in New York’s Times Square last week. Views  soared past the quarter million mark on Monday of the three-day holiday weekend.

The satirical video shows Schmidt driving an ice cream truck and gathering personal information. We launched the campaign to make the public aware of how out of touch Schmidt and Google are when it comes to consumers’ privacy rights. The video is  also meant to build support for  “Do Not Track Me” legislation in Congress.

Some people seemed to think we meant the video literally. It’s a cartoon, but it’s supposed to prompt serious discussion and action. Even Google  gets that.  Their first reaction on Thursday:

“We like ice cream as much as anyone, but we like privacy even more. That’s why we provide tools for users to control their privacy online, like Google Dashboard, Ads Preference Manager, Chrome incognito mode and ‘off the record’ Gmail chat. You can check out these tools at google.com/privacy.

I’m glad the video prompted them to try and explain to consumers where to find what privacy tools they do offer.  That’s part of the problem; most of us don’t know where to look.

Take a look at a recent screen shot below of Google’s home page.

If Google really cared about your privacy, the company would use that prime space under the search box to explain what’s offered, rather than hawking Google’s browser. The word “Privacy” — with no indication or explanation that it involves any settings or user tools — is in the smallest type on the page.

Google touted its ad preferences manager in its response, which, after three clicks, opts you out receiving what Google calls “interested based” advertising. Those are ads that Google decides to serve up to you based on looking over your shoulder and tracking your Web surfing.

Opting out doesn’t stop Google gathering your data.  It just stops it serving  ads based on the data.

Here’s a screenshot of the Google home page on Labor Day.

The Internet giant is still hawking Chrome.  Using that upper right space for a true “Do Not Track Me” or a “Make Me Anonymous” function would show sincere commitment to consumer privacy.

Yes, Google has taken some privacy friendly steps, for  which it deserves credit.  SSL encryption, using the HTTPS protocol is now the default mode for Gmail.  It’s an option for search.  But does anyone think they would have been offered without constant pushing from privacy advocates?

On Friday Google announced it was working to make its privacy policies more comprehensible. Writing on the Official Google Blog, Mike Yang, assistant general counsel said:

“Long, complicated and lawyerly—that’s what most people think about privacy policies, and for good reason. Even taking into account that they’re legal documents, most privacy policies are still too hard to understand.

So we’re simplifying and updating Google’s privacy policies. To be clear, we aren’t changing any of our privacy practices; we want to make our policies more transparent and understandable.”

I’m glad Google finally admits it. Does anyone think this would be happening unless there was a continued focus on the Internet giant’s practices from projects like Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google?

But the real challenge is ensuring that consumers finally have control over what data is gathered about them, how it is stored and how it is used.

Some critics of our campaign reacted by suggesting that our Inside Google project is hypocritical because our Consumer Watchdog Website uses Google analytics.  I’ll let  Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court set the record straight:

“Our back-end platform on Consumer Watchdog hardwires Google analytics into the site, and it’s a proprietary platform owned by Edelman Communications, bought recently from Grassroots Enterprises, that we cannot control or alter. We don’t see eye-to-eye with Edelman on many issues and have been in the process of leaving that platform for months.

“The move should be complete by November, and we will be on an open source system that, like our Insidegoogle.com platform, or Oilwatchdog.org open source platforms, chooses to avoid Google analytics. The exercise shows how hard it is to escape Google on the Internet, or know Google is behind many products and services.

“Most people think of it as a search engine, but it’s a lot more, which is why we are so concerned about its power and growth  and established InsideGoogle.com. We didn’t choose to have Google Analytics on the back end of our main site, nor do we use data it provides, and we cannot take it off, but we can switch to an open source system, which avoids Google Analytics, and we are in the process of doing just that.”

Anytime CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin want to sit down and discuss privacy, I’ll buy the ice cream.  Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog will continue to hold their feet to the fire.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 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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7 Responses to “Online views soar in overwhelming response to Inside Google video”

  1. Alexander Says:

    I admire your goal. Thank you for pursuing this, even amid the criticism I’ve read by others in comments on this site. The real goal IMO, should not be an opt-out list, which brings focus on those who don’t want to be tracked. But instead, our government should set broad limits on data collection and require mandatory deletion of such data every X years. Specifically, they should 1.) ban data mining all together (many companies do this full time, and I’m not referring to google here) and 2.) require that Google, Yahoo, et al, delete logs of all searches conducted within the USA every X number of years (3?) and the same for ISP’s and any logs of internet traffic history, 3.) give us control over our medical records again and allow deletion–they are OUR records, not the institutions–allow patients to fully delete records after a specified # of years (once the bill has been paid and in good standing and it has already stood as record of treatment for hospitals tax purposes). This medical record deletion ability to regain our privacy in this area should begin with records that are ultra-sensitive regarding personal privacy and have little or no need to be kept as they are not ongoing, terminal conditions–such as reproductive health records are the best place to start allowing patient control and deletion of specific records. Then this could be expanded given the creation of national health care negates the insurance need for the old-school, invasive, everlasting medical record mentality given you cannot be turned away from insurance for a pre-exisiting condition. Allow deletion. Any senator or congress person who allowed this specific health record deletion would be seen as a fighter for Americans privacy and would have their profile raised *significantly*. Since I can’t trust them to do it for the right reasons, maybe one will see the political benefit to doing the right thing and fighting for Americans digital and health privacy. We need a national hero.

    Few are aware that Congress passed creation of a national electronic health record mega-database as part of the first $700b stimulus/TARP bill (The one that was so large Nancy Pelosi is on record saying ‘we have to pass it to find out what was in it.’ That one.) Creating a national database of health records is the penultimate embodiment of an overreaching, invasive big-brother government. *If politicians had truly wanted to help, they should have pursued ***standardization*** of health records, to allow efficient processing and transfer among health providers–NOT a foolhardy national database. Just to note, not even the US defense dept. can completely secure their servers. A national health database can never be secure, particularly when the one entity Americans should most want kept out of their personal business is the government itself.

    ….

    I wrote much more, but then simply deleted it. My previous efforts to persuade politicians have only fallen on deaf ears. So I pray you have success in restoring American privacy rights. And I think your creative viral strategy is on the right track and the only way to *make* political elite change their ways by making public support simply much too large to ignore.

  2. shakun Says:

    Man, I’m so happy you guys are watching our backs. I’ll do my best to promote your awareness of your site and cause out there. Thank you very much for everything you are doing for the consumers.

  3. Ben Says:

    So if you hate Google so much why are you using it and why do you care? All you seem to be doing is whining about “privacy” issues which as far as I can tell other than the Buzz issue are just about getting you a better search. So my question is what do you think Google is actually doing with your search results and how does it exactly getting the way off your privacy? And why do you need my email address is that not invasion of privacy?

  4. FBLike Says:

    If our privacy really matters, maybe you should remove the “facebook like” option from your website and the “twitter” calls. You are giving them a lot of info about your visitors. No?

  5. zzzzz78759 Says:

    Thumbs down to this video. It is neither satirical nor a lampoon, it’s just plain creepy. Scare tactics like this are totally unnecessary.

    What does Google do with the information it gathers? It serves up the ads. The ads pay for the free services Google provides. If you want to pay for these services, then don’t use Google products. It’s actually pretty simple.

    Every search engine, every free email provider, every social networking site, almost every Web page (I see you require email addresses to comment) tracks us in some way. Welcome to the Information Superhighway.

    I found absolutely nothing funny in this ad. Actually, I found it quite disturbing, no for what it says about Google but what it says about you. What sort of tendencies is the person who thought of this harboring? Yuck.

  6. Facebook Says:

    @FBLike: these guys at insidegoogle.com represents the epitome of hypocrisy, the only thing they care about is themselves (and their funding).

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