Commentary

Google Fumbles On Privacy

European regulators recently asked Google whether the cars that take photos for the Street View project also were collecting personal information from WiFi networks.

Google initially said there was no cause for concern. In a blog post dated April 27, the company said it was only collecting information about WiFi networks, but not the "payload data" -- that is, the data that was transmitted via WiFi.

Turns out, however, that Google did inadvertently collect payload data from WiFi networks that weren't password-protected. Late Friday, Google acknowledged the problem and said it would delete the material. By today, the company updated its post to state that it has already shed data collected in Ireland.

Still, the incident is likely to fuel renewed concerns about whether Google poses a privacy threat. Already, a German consumer protection minister has said that Google's data collection offers "further evidence that privacy law is a foreign concept to Google."

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To some extent, concerns about Google are justified. After all, the company has amassed a huge amount of information about users -- including data connected with their Gmail accounts and query logs tying searches to IP addresses.

And the timing of the revelation -- in the middle of intensifying concern about Facebook -- also is unfortunate for Google.

But in some ways, the incident makes Google's privacy policies look good by comparison to Facebook's.

First of all, unlike Facebook, Google quickly admitted its mistake and promised to fix it. Secondly, while the secret collection of personal information clearly violates people's privacy, sharing users' data without people's permission -- with search engines or with other companies like Yelp -- is a far more significant betrayal.

3 comments about "Google Fumbles On Privacy".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, May 17, 2010 at 11:25 p.m.

    "We are already controlled"

  2. Karl Wabst from The 56 Group, May 18, 2010 at 6:21 p.m.

    The latest Google incident revealed that the organization either:

    a. Is incompetent. We are being told that the World's largest data aggregator did not know what was being collected and stored.

    b. Lied, assuming they would not have to put their reputation on the line & open themselves up to legal liability.

    My question: why have US regulators NOT known about this before now? Did they ask? Did they just take Google's word that everything was properly handled?

    Now Lawmakers have the justification they need to craft more reactionary regulation.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 18, 2010 at 10:11 p.m.

    Very true, Bruce. And we are killing ourselves faster than the experts figure. Pogo-ized.

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