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Add a 4th category of lie: Googlespeak

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Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

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Add a 4th category  of lie: Googlespeak

You’ve probably heard the description of ways to mislead people that was attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali and popularized in this country by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Now we can add a fourth: Googlespeak.

Let me explain.

Last Friday Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research acknowledged for the first time on Google’s Official Blog that Google’s Wi-Spying captured entire emails and URLs, as well as passwords and announced  new privacy measures.

We said it was difficult to take the Internet giant’s words at face value when its story about how Street View cars gathered data from wireless networks kept changing over the six months since the scandal broke. Here ‘s how the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang quoted me on Monday in Post Tech:

“First they said they didn’t gather data; then they said they did, but it was only fragments; and today they finally admit entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”

In an update to her blog post she quotes an unnamed Google spokesperson as responding:

“In an e-mail, a Google spokesperson disputed Simpson’s comments, saying the firm had never said it only picked up fragments data.”

For the record here’s what Eustace wrote in May:

“However, we we will typically have collected only fragments of payload data because: our cars are on the move; someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by; and our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second.”

My words that “then they said they did, but it was only fragments” is an accurate and fair description of Google’s May position, which essentially tried to convey the idea that there was nothing to worry about, fragments of payload data were being collected.

So now instead of owning up to the way Google’s spokesman tried to mislead and minimize the issue in May, they’re attacking me.

Like I said:  Lies, damned lies, statistics and now, Googlespeak.

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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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