Lawmakers Urged To Probe Google Social Security Controversy

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    A frequent Google critic Thursday called on the House co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus to push for hearings into Google’s request for the last four digits of the Social Security numbers from children seeking to participate in an art contest the Internet firm sponsored.

    In a letter to Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., Consumer Watchdog cited the recent controversy over Google’s Doodle 4 Google art contest for children and its request that parents include the last four digits of their children’s Social Security numbers on the registration form that is supposed to be submitted with the artwork.

    “The Doodle 4 Google incident is not a one-time event, but part of a consistent pattern of disregarding privacy rights,” Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson said in the letter to Barton and Markey, senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Consider the Wi-Spy scandal in which private data was gathered from Wi-Fi networks around the world and the breach of privacy when
    Google’s ill-fated social networking service, Buzz, was launched.”

    The letter urged the lawmakers to push for a congressional hearing on the issue and the group’s other concerns about Google’s privacy policies, including the controversy over what Google has described as the mistaken collection of data from unsecured home Wi-Fi networks. Among the issues the group said lawmakers should examine include where is the information Google has collected for the contest stored; who decided to change the entry requirements; and what is the process for authorizing such programs before they are launched.

    Aides to Barton and Markey did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

    In a statement, Google noted that the contest was opened up to more children this year and that it sought the Social Security information to ensure that there were not duplicate entries. It also said that it removed the request for the last four digits of a child’s Social Security number after some parents had raised questions about it and “when we recognized that we could sufficiently separate legitimate contest entries while requesting less information.”

    Google added, that, “To be clear, all data concerning students that is collected by Doodle 4 Google is used only to administer the contest. The last four digits of the Social Security number were not entered into our contest records, and any forms containing this information will be safely discarded.”

    Despite the controversy, the contest is ongoing, Google said. The registration deadline for the contest is March 2, while artwork must be submitted by March 16.

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