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.