Privacy International Blasts Google
Posted by shadmia on June 11, 2007
Google has received Privacy International’s worst privacy rating. According to PI, Google is accused of “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy.” Google ranked the lowest among 22 other high profile Internet companies that include: Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL, Wikipedia, The BBC and others.
Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, England, and has an office in Washington, D.C. PI has conducted campaigns and research throughout the world on issues ranging from wiretapping and national security, to ID cards, video surveillance, data matching, medical privacy, and freedom of information and expression. In a statement PI said:
While a number of other Internet companies have troubling policies, none comes as close to Google to “achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy”
The categories used for analysis included: Corporate administrative details, Corporate leadership, Data collection and processing, Data retention, Openness and Transparency, Responsiveness, Ethical compass, Customer and User control, Fair gateways and authentication, Privacy enhancing innovations and Privacy invasive innovations.
Google of course took issue with the report and defended its record saying that it aggressively defends its users’ privacy and stands behind its track record. It was last year that Google successfully fought a subpoena from the Department of Justice trying to review millions of search requests. Other search engines like Yahoo! and AOL handed their records over to the Government but Google refused, took the DOJ to court, and won.
“We are disappointed with Privacy International’s report, which is based on numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services,” said Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel.
“It’s a shame that Privacy International decided to publish its report before we had an opportunity to discuss our privacy practices with them.”
PI claimed they contacted Google before publishing their report but did not receive a response from the company. This is not the first time that PI has tackled Google over privacy issues. In 2004 they filed complaints in 16 different countries against Google’s Gmail service claiming among other things:
- An absence of contractual commitment to the security of data.
- Breaches of law concerning the interception and scanning of emails
Prior to issuing the current report there seemed to be some “cloak and dagger” activity going on behind the scenes. Google had apparently tried to show that there was bias towards Microsoft, and presumably against Google, at Privacy International which prompted PI to publish an open letter to Google denying this saying they were “a fiercely independent organization that has never shown fear nor favour.”
As stated in a previous article Is Google Big Brother? there are serious privacy concerns that need to be addressed by Google. The report by Privacy International highlights this. Google has detailed personal information on millions of people who use their various services. How is this data being used? Is it safe and secure? Who has access to it? If there are inaccuracies, how would I know? How long is it kept for? It is not comforting to learn that privacy is not a top priority at Google.
Another aspect to Google brought out in the report is that it tried to undermine the integrity of PI, claiming favoritism towards Microsoft. Instead of dealing with the facts in the report it tried to marginalize the source. Is this the kind of behavior that we can expect from a company whose motto is: Don’t Be Evil? Is this the way to deal with criticism? Have others been silenced? There is a saying: “Power corrupts…..” Let’s hope we are not at the stage that we have to start wondering: “What is Google up to?”