German Regulators Make Google's Gaffe Worse

Making a bad situation worse, privacy officials in Germany are demanding that Google turn over the data it collected from WiFi networks.

The German regulators reportedly say they want to see the extent of the data collection for themselves. The regulators also presumably want to preserve evidence of Google's potential breach of the country's privacy law.

But it's hard to see how providing a foreign government with users' data protects them. After all, if Google violated people's privacy by spying on them, wouldn't handing over that data to the government violate people's privacy a second time? Clearly the consequences to individual users can be far worse once the government gets its hands on people's data.

Google, for all its power, can't actually arrest anyone. Or wiretap people's lines for evidence. For that matter, Google -- and other corporations -- can't actually violate people's rights to free speech, or to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. Only the government can.

While it's possible that the privacy authorities in Germany would be required to keep secret any information that they learn about individual users, there are no guarantees. The more people who have access to information, the more likely it is to become generally available.

Ultimately, the reason why people care about privacy is because they don't want information about themselves shared with third parties. If Google collected data that's never been used, and that can be destroyed without ever being seen by others, then doing so appears to protect people's privacy more than turning it over for inspection.

2 comments about "German Regulators Make Google's Gaffe Worse".
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  1. Karl Wabst from The 56 Group, May 18, 2010 at 8:13 p.m.

    It was the German government's inquiry that exposed Google's misdeeds in the first place.

    Google may have broken the law in Germany and other countries. The evidence of a crime must be preserved for potential prosecution. If a company breaks the law in country X, country x has an obligation to gather & examine evidence.

    Do you propose simply taking Google's word that they never used the data? If we took Google's word for their practices, they would still be collecting the data.

    If the US had a Federal level privacy law, that was actually enforced, Google & the US would not have to depend upon a foreign country to protect users & data rights.

  2. Theresa m. Moore from Antellus, May 20, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.

    Unfortunately that is not the extent of Google's outlaw practices. Those of us who publish books and then post them on the Google Partner Program run the risk of having our content kept by Google in perpetuity regardless of our wishes. I have had trouble just removing out of print book files and had been interested in posting ebooks to Google Editions, but the lack of movement in removing the printed versions from the search engine has led me to reconsider participating at all. I'll stick with Kindle and other ebook sellers, and have the option to remove my titles when they are no longer in circulation. On the book list there is NO delete button. This means once it's on there, no force on Earth will shift them to act on request. This is in effect book piracy of the subtlest and most insidious order. I am giving them until the end of next week, then I am closing the Google Partner account and moving on to greener pastures.

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