Secret Google Presentation Defends Invasive Behavioral Ads

Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 5:30 am

    Consumer Watchdog Releases Satirical Annotated Version, Says Cyber-Spying Should Raise Lawmaker Alarms Over Internet Giant’s New ‘Net-based Operating System

    Washington, D.C. — Online search giant Google, already under fire for its privacy policies and a self-serving online book publication deal, is now apparently trying to persuade Capitol Hill policymakers that its so-called behavioral advertising, which targets users based on their browsing–is benign, said Consumer Watchdog. The nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group has obtained  a “confidential” and “proprietary” Google presentation for lawmakers that, ironically, touts Google’s commitment to “transparency,” but skirts tough questions about its secretive user data tracking, storage and sharing policies.

    Google increasingly spies on what consumers do online, including what web sites they visit; creates dossiers on users’ online behavior without their prior permission; then harvests this private information to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, said Consumer Watchdog.

    Consumer Watchdog posted the presentation along with an annotated version, prepared by an industry insider, that calls out Google’s deceptions. The group urged lawmakers and the Justice Department to view both versions and consider strict limits on how Google collects and uses its customers’ online behavior.

    View the documents two ways:

    Or faster at Scribd:

    The privacy question has grown more urgent with Google’s announcement Wednesday that it will release a new operating system that moves currently computer-based functions to its proprietary Internet “cloud,” said Consumer Watchdog.   Congress is considering forcing Google to adopt an opt-in model where users must actively allow Google to collect or share browsing history and user data.  

    “The Justice Department should be worried when Google tries to obfuscate its data tracking capacity and reach rather than disclose all of it,” said Judy Dugan, research director of Consumer Watchdog. “Congress should demand that Google  stop tracking Americans’ online behavior without their prior permission. Whatever Google does will quickly become the industry standard.”

    The annotated version of the presentation notes that Google’s strangely labeled path to opting out of this invasive advertising is hidden beneath “layers of privacy policies,” that it takes seven clicks to install a permanent opt-out, and that watching all 38 of Google’s videos explaining its dense privacy policies takes 3.8 hours, nearly as long as Gone With the Wind.

    The Google presentation boasts of the company’s commitment to transparency in developing what it blandly calls “targeted advertising,” which shows ads to users based on the content of sites and videos the user has viewed over time. Yet, in a Big Brother moment, it made its case in a “confidential” and “proprietary” document, said Consumer Watchdog.

    Google’s new operating system could also comb users’ stored documents for information on what the company calls “interest categories.” The depth of this potential data collection is not mentioned in the Google spin document, said Consumer Watchdog.

    The document was provided to Consumer Watchdog by an anonymous industry insider familiar with Google’s lobbying who has provided other Google spin documents.
    (Click here to see a previous document on Google’s attempt to minimize its industry dominance, and accompanying news release. )

    The Google presentation appears to be associated with a June 18 Congressional hearing that questioned online “behavioral advertising.” Consumer Watchdog has previously asked the Justice Department to investigate Google’s privacy policies.

    “Google should stop dodging, ducking and weaving when it comes to squaring its do-no-evil pledge with its cyber-spying and ‘confidential’ memos, said Dugan. “The company could eliminate all privacy doubts with a simple page-one button allowing users to affirmatively allow the company to track their personal online habits. Google’s refusal to do so appears to confirm that evading user privacy is essential to its business model.”
    The annotated version of the Google presentation ends with these key questions for which Congress should demand answers:
    1.    Why isn’t Google’s behavioral advertising opt-in rather than opt-out?
    2.    Why not prominently include a link allowing users to permanently opt-out of Google tracking?
    3.    2008: Google says it has no plans to use behavioral advertising… [that] it doesn’t work. What changed?
    4.    Is Google’s behavioral advertising really about delivering more interesting ads or is it about expanding its data collection and targeting activities?
    5.    And just for fun…  [Consumer Watchdog’s review: “Delicious, don’t-miss, nosy roommate spoof!”]


    Google Internal Document – July 09 – Annotated

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