New Website Tracking Google’s Impact on Privacy

Thu, May 20, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has launched a new website,, whose purpose is to keep a bright light shining on anything Google does that affects privacy.

    “Google advocates openness and transparency for everyone else, but when it comes to their own activities, the company is extremely secretive,” said Consumer Watchdog spokesman John Simpson. “Inside Google will focus needed public attention on Google’s activities.”

    Simpson says the group aims to hold Google accountable for tracking consumers’ online activities without explicit permission. Privacy questions came up during the interview search consultant Danny Sullivan nabbed with Google co-founder Sergey Brin at Google’s I/O developers conference in San Francisco. Brin expressed regret over the company’s decision to collect personal data from open Wi-Fi networks in major cities around the world. Yet, Sullivan reports in this blog post that Brin seemed “non-committal” about working with tech rivals to protect privacy.

    Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Google executives are wrestling over whether to launch controversial facial recognition technology, given a barrage of protests on several privacy fronts. This includes privacy officials from 10 nations recently sending Google CEO Eric Schmidt a letter of reprimand over the company’s rollout of Google Buzz, its would-be Facebook-killer.

    Financial Times journalist Maija Palmer reports that Schmidt and other senior execs have begun reviewing procedures for launching new technologies, due to the spate of public protests.

    Consumer Watchdog’s Simpson says there could be a silver lining in this for Google. He wants the search giant to embrace the notion of becoming the Internet’s privacy champion, potentially leading Facebook and others to improve, not erode, individuals’ privacy. He says this would fit with Google’s informal corporate motto: “Don’t be evil.”

    “Google is no longer the warm and cuddly company people love because its search is so good and many of the services it provides are perceived as free,” says Simpson. “People around the world are starting to take a serious look at the implications of Google’s activities.”

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