Privacy Group Flunks GoogleBy Lisa Vaas | Posted 2007-06-12 Print
Even Google's history of being the only search company to refuse to hand over subpoenaed search results doesn't mean it's not negligent of privacy accountability, user control and transparency, Privacy International says.A U.K. privacy group has issued a scathing report on large Internet players' privacy records, going so far as to flunk Google altogether.
Privacy International, a privacy NGO, spent six months working on the report (PDF), titled "Race to the Bottom? 2007." The group says it based its rankings on data derived from public sources including newspaper articles, blog entries, submissions to government inquiries and privacy policies; information provided by present and former company staff; technical analysis; and interviews with company representatives.
PI Director Simon Davies insists that news accounts and the blogosphere have been overly focused on Google's poor rating since it was published on June 9. But on a color scale ranging from green (privacy-friendly and privacy-enhancing) to black (comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy), PI draped black crepe only around Google.
The report is sketchy, and the means by which it arrived at its conclusions are anything but apparent. PI says that because its rankings are a "precedent," it's regarding its initial effort as a "consultation report" meant to open up dialogue. The group plans to publish a full report in September that will take into account "any new and relevant information," it said on its site.
"Over the course of the next two and a half months, our aim is to extract an unprecedented quantity of data about the full extent of what's happening to our privacy. I have a feeling in my bones that privacy is going to come front and center as an issue, and companies won't be able to hide behind [the rationale of business models]," the Davies said in an interview with eWEEK.
One rationale the group gives on its spreadsheet report for flunking Google is that a privacy mandate "is not embedded throughout the company. Techniques and technologies frequently rolled out without adequate public consultation (e.g. Street level view)."
That, in particular, is a complaint that's been circulating widely. Google's online map service, "Street View," has been accused of snapping photos too close to people's private homes and of people on the street who don't know they're being watched.
A European Union panel on privacy rights in May launched an investigation into whether Google's practice of storing and retaining user information for up to two years abides by the EU's privacy rules. Google is due to address these concerns before the panel's next meeting at the end of June.
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