Privacy Group Flunks Google

By Lisa Vaas Print this article 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.

Indeed, PI's report is only the most recent of a barrage of criticism leveled against Google's treatment of user information.

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.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Privacy Group Flunks Google

This article was originally published on 2007-06-12
Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.
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