Engineer’s abuse validates ice cream truck video; Google needs to answer questions

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Engineer’s abuse validates ice cream truck video; Google needs to answer questions

    Sometimes satire becomes more true than anyone ever could imagine happening. News this week shows our video touted in Times Square and viewed more than 330,000 times is right on the mark.  CEO Eric Schmidt is driving the Google ice cream truck and an engineer in the back has been invading kids’ privacy.

    The point we’ve been making is that when so much personal information is accumulated by one company it is inevitably a target for abuse.  Consumers have a right to control their data and whether it’s even gathered.  They have a right to know if their privacy is breached.

    Google needs to come clean about how many times consumers’ privacy has been violated.  Here are three  questions the Internet giant needs to answer:

    — How many other Googlers have invaded consumers’ privacy?

    — How many have been disciplined or fired for doing so?

    —  How many times have hackers — government or private — gained entry to Google’s treasure drove of data?

    Google fanboys and fangirls have suggested in comments on this site and elsewhere  that our satirical “Don’t Be Evil?” video depicting  Schmidt distributing “free” ice cream while gathering personal information from kids is “over the top.”  Google, they say, wouldn’t abuse the vast amount of private information they have about you, because they are the Don’t Be Evil company.  It’s all about “improving the user’s experience.”

    Well, in case you missed it, on Tuesday the Website Gawker’s Valleywag first revealed how a Google engineer  “engineer spied on four underage teens for months before the company was notified of the abuses.” The report continues:

    “David Barksdale a 27-year-old former Google engineer, repeatedly took advantage of his position as a member of an elite technical group at the company to access users’ accounts, violating the privacy of at least four minors during his employment, we’ve learned. Barksdale met the kids through a technology group in the Seattle area while working as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google’s Kirkland, Wash. office. He was fired in July 2010 after his actions were reported to the company.”

    OK, so it wasn’t  Schmidt who personally violated the kid’s privacy, but he is driving the ice cream truck. He is the corporate face of the Internet giant that made this privacy invasion possible and an appropriate target of satire. Again, what we have said, and the point the video makes, is that amassing the vast amounts of personal information now stored on Google’s worldwide network of servers makes it easy to abuse that data and invade your privacy, and you have no real control of your information.

    The intrusions using Google’s data store can come from hackers, governments, “rogue” employees or Google itself when the company decides an invasion suits its latest business agenda. Remember the launch of”Buzz” when Google revealed users’ most frequent email contacts?

    The problem isn’t one rogue or clueless employee.  The problem is a corporate culture driven by a computer engineer’s mindset that permeates Google to the core: More data is always better even if you don’t know what you’ll do with it when its first gathered. With the right algorithms we know best how to use your data for you. Don’t ask permission; you can always ask forgiveness.

    Google is simply too cavalier and arrogant in its approach to handling consumers’ information.

    That corporate attitude was clear in the Wi-Spy scandal earlier this year when Google gathered information from private Wi-Fi networks with its Street View vehicles in 30 countries around the world.

    Barksdale apparently suffered from a geek’s arrogance to an extreme degree and saw nothing wrong with accessing private information to use as he saw fit.  He broke Google’s current rules, but think about it.  Isn’t what Barksdale did essentially the basis of of Google’s entire business model? Gather private data and use it for your own purposes.

    If Google expects consumers to trust the company with their data, it needs to provide real control over how their information is used or if its gathered at all. And, Google must provide complete transparency about the security of its databases.

    Sunlight is always the best disinfectant.  The best way to prevent abuses is to be open about them if they occur. Again, our three questions for Google:

    — How many other Googlers have invaded consumers’ privacy?

    –How many have been disciplined or fired for doing so?

    — How many times have hackers — government or private — gained entry to Google’s treasure drove of data?

    You want us to trust you with our information, Google? Free ice cream doesn’t cut it. First, give us real control over what you collect and then come completely clean about how successful you are in protecting the information once you have it.

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