Googles privacy practices are the worst on the Internet

33 comments

While this isn't a surprise to any of the regular TW audience it is nice to see that main stream press is starting to get it via Yahoo News

In a report released Saturday, London-based Privacy International assigned Google its lowest possible grade. The category is reserved for companies with "comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy."
None of the 22 other surveyed companies — a group that included Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), Microsoft Corp. and AOL — sunk to that level, according to Privacy International.
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," Privacy International said in an explanation of its findings.

Comments

Google replies with smear

Google replies with smear campaign.

Quote:
As Privacy International prepares to publish the first privacy ranking of major Internet companies, Google has embarked on a smear campaign within the media to discredit both PI and the report. The report ranks the privacy performance of the top Internet service companies. Privacy International will then publish a detailed open letter to Google and a demand for an apology.

Privacy International (linked to home page as destination url is not forum software friendly, it has [brackets]).

Ya gotta love google here, a little friction and their true character is exposed.

Google has embarked on a

Google has embarked on a smear campaign within the media to discredit both PI and the report

The statement is made, but doesn't appear to be justified at present.

Open Letter to

Open Letter to Google

Quote:
Two European journalists have independently told us that Google representatives have contacted them with the claim that "Privacy International has a conflict of interest regarding Microsoft". I presume this was motivated because Microsoft scored an overall better result than Google in the rankings.

More details

More details from Danny

Overall, looking at just the performance of the best companies PI found shows that Google measures up well -- and thus ranking it the worse simply doesn't seem fair. But the bigger issue is that the report itself doesn't appear to be as comprehensive or fully researched as it is billed. [...] I'd like to see Google appoint a privacy czar, someone charged with, as I've suggested above, assuming the worst about the company and diligently working to ensure users have as much protection as possible.

Yes but...

..performance on privacy has to be mapped against the amount of data company holds - you could be as lax as you like if you only have three customers and no one would notice.

With the maount and type of data Google holds even minor concerns are going to make front page news. Given the AOL search data release last year and the coverage it generated Google can't affod to take their eyes of the ball for a second on privacy issues without it causing a storm of bad press, given the amount of data they hold on people.

Privacy Policy isn't just saying "your stuff's safe with us"

It's about what you collect in the first place, and, just as importantly, how you do it. Things like whether users are aware of what kind of data you're gathering about and from them, whether you ask their permission before doing so, what you actually do with it, who holds access to it (and what security measures have been put in place to safeguard it), under which circumstances you'll make it available to third parties, etc. etc.

On all these counts, and then some, I don't think it's unfair or mistaken to speak of an "entrenched hostility to privacy" in the case of Google.

As for Danny's comments, it's one of the exceedingly rare cases I'm finding myself in utter disagreement with him.

Take this, for instance:

Quote:
The letter never names the person in question, which is odd. Why be so secretive on this front, if everything is good and fine?

This is quite naive, to put it very mildly. For one, that's simply not the way you're likely to communicate once the lawyers get involved (and I'll bet the farm on it that they were so involved right from the start). There may be a slew of legit reasons (not that he seems to have asked, eh?!) and simply mentioning this item quite pointlessly doesn't lend too much credibility to his whole piece, making it look very biased in favor of Google and denigrating even his numerous legitimate criticisms.

Ok, so he's taking privacy concerns very lightly, and by his own admission, too, even reiterating the point.

Sorry again, but his wording "Sigh. Yes, let's get all worried about still fairly anonymous IP addresses" is downright silly: If this were so utterly trivial as he's insinuating, I have to wonder why administrations all over the bloody place have been itching to get hold of just these, wanting to store them for ages (in the case of Poland, a full 12 years!), etc. etc.

This is trivializing privacy and, in the end, civil liberty concerns to the point of authoritarian propaganda...

Nothing wrong per se with his adopting such an attitude, perhaps, even if I happen to take an entirely different view myself. Each to his own, and all that.

But does it make him the best of authorities to gauge this particular report with even a modicum of pretense to impartiality? Hardly.

There's lots more, e.g. his contradiction in mentioning the BBC's privacy policy renewal date (pure speculation on his part); his attempting to dilute PI's concerns by pointing out that Google has "so many" privacy policies in place; his countering their (ok, possibly not very well substantiated) claims with equally vague contrarian statements of his own, etc. (What kind of an argument is this, anyway? The "my stats are longer than your stats" type? Cringe...)

But as it's not my intention to critique (or even trash) his article at length and in all detail here, I guess I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, do read the comments by Seth Finkelstein on Danny's blog for more - he's neatly summing up a few of the major contentions he has with this piece (as do I, as do - I'll presume - quite a few other people).

Danny goes on a lot about "knee-jerk" reactions. Well, many of his comments don't come over much better.

And while he stresses that there's a lot more that can be said against Google than PI has actually leveraged in their report (full agreement there!), all his watch dog type "verdicts" and his expert's down-the-nose attempts at "putting everything into perspective" are pretty lame and less than well reflected let alone reasoned, IMO.

And they certainly don't do him credit, which is quite regrettable because here's one guy who REALLY ought to know better.

Fence Post

Ass.

Danny is politic. 'nuff said.

Danny offers commentary. That's it. Nice guy, yada yada.

Privacy vs. Service

I have a friend who goes on Disney vacations every year with his family. Each time that he takes a trip, it gets better and better because they pay close attention to their habits, likes and dislikes and also respond to survey information. Since Disney does such a fantastic job in maintaining data, the experience gets better and better.

When I read that someone takes issue with 'privacy', to me it doesn't correspond to how they use that data, only how they protect or abuse that data. I don't mind that Google is collecting tons of data on me as long as my user experience gets better and better with them.

I don't want them to treat me like a fresh face. I want them to learn my habits and adjust accordingly. That's just great service. Great service results in better business. I like both!

Quote:I don't want them to

Quote:
I don't want them to treat me like a fresh face. I want them to learn my habits and adjust accordingly. That's just great service. Great service results in better business. I like both!

From the desk of Marissa Meyer?

Quote:
Danny's comments

Danny burned the midnight oil on that one, I'm sure they'll toss him the scoop when they roll out online solitaire. Writing isn't journalism.

lt may be nice if they're giving you what you want

Less so if they don't.
For my part, I simply don't fancy a world in which the likes of Eric Schmidt & Co set out to decide what's best for me and which government goons they're going to assist in doing the same.

(Hmph, wonder what made this post slide down to the bottom of the pile after editing ...)

Don't use them, then!

It's pretty simple if you ask me. Google puts out free applications that, when utilized, will improve your experience of their applications. People are now screaming about privacy issues as they continue to store and leverage that data.

Seems pretty simple... if you don't like it, don't use them! Block all cookies, turn off all Javascript. While you're at it, be sure to not use email (which is totally insecure). Heck, cancel your Internet account and buy some extra locks for your doors.

So maybe you have no clue

what it's like to live in a Big Brother society or a dictatorship.
Because I happen to have lived in several in my time.
Regardless their specific ideology, they always enjoyed the same kind of supporters.
The first group were the idiots who harbored inane delusions about being too smart to ever be caught between the cogs.
The second group were too scared to do something about it, feeling they had too much to lose.
The third were the collaborators and profiteers.
And finally, there was the great mass of people who were either too dumb or too lethargic or both to realize what was going on or to care.
So dream on...

So...Danny Sullivan is now

So...Danny Sullivan is now in the pay of Google, and part of their instrumental campaign to smear Privacy International?

Meanwhile PI whisper about dark warnings from unnamed people, about PI's dark dealings with unnamed people, and general dark paranoia that they study of blog postings about Google will somehow be treated as a second rate study?

You don't need to smear PI - they're doing a pretty good job of kneecapping themselves, and it's trivialising the subject matter.

2c.

Sigh. Yes, let's get all

Sigh. Yes, let's get all worried about still fairly anonymous IP addresses. Frankly, there's a strong argument to skip worrying about IP addresses as an exercise that just wastes time

Even with this tracing, you still don't know the actual person -- the named individual -- who placed the call. To get that, you'd need to contact Qwest with the information and ask them which account was accessing Google through their servers at this time. Google itself only knows, at best, that this was a Qwest connection.

Yes I don't agree with Danny on his points about IP addresses. When a user has other Google services then you could make a more educated guess than the ISP. We're taking it on trust that they don't connect up the databases.

Besides this the leaking of the AOL data proved that some individuals could be identified by the data - which kind of makes the whole anonymous-data argument a little mute.

In my opinion none of this data should be stored, even for 18-24 months. As mentioned on TW several times before, the first SE that rides in on a privacy angle would probably do well.

Matt is right to point out the greater danger with ISPs. They have access to all the data on where you visit. In fact over here in Russia we pay for our connection by the MB so get a detailed breakdown of this exact data each month from ours. It doesn't surprise me to hear this data is bought and sold already.

Still that is no defense for Google. It's always easy to point at the weaknesses in others to deflect attention on an issue.

It would be great if we could open this debate to discuss what privacy standards we demand all internet companies adhere to.

Matt Cutts blames

Matt Cutts blames Hitwise.

Quote:
If Privacy International really wants to focus on Google rather than digging into companies that are, you know, actually buying and selling user data, that’s their choice. :) Note that I have nothing against Hitwise, Compete, or ISPs at all; I just think it’s unwarranted to call out Google when user data is being bought, sold, given to the government in the millions, or being leaked — by other companies.

The problem with his logic is that the "others" do not have the depth or reach to perpetrate the carnage that Google has.

I love how he named the url to that post.

"privacy-international-loses-all-credibility/"

that pretty much sums up what the game plan at google is.

..

This story is only news to people that don't follow Google.

For those of us that do follow google, this is just par for the course.

Quote:
Don't use them, then!

It's pretty simple if you ask me. Google puts out free applications that, when utilized, will improve your experience of their applications. People are now screaming about privacy issues as they continue to store and leverage that data.

Seems pretty simple... if you don't like it, don't use them! Block all cookies, turn off all Javascript. While you're at it, be sure to not use email (which is totally insecure). Heck, cancel your Internet account and buy some extra locks for your doors.

Google employee?? Or just drinking too much Kool-aid?? Ahh who cares...

I don't use any of google's 'free' applications, I do block javascript and every damn 38 year google cookie I can find.

I just want to use a SEARCH ENGINE when I go to google.

I don't want google trying to figure out what I am thinking or what I want based on my searches or any other criteria they can think of. If I want google to know what I am thinking I'll tell them. I'll also ask google for what I want, on my own, without google trying to psycho analyze me and figure it out for me.

What I really dislike is this attitude that google has developed... "Your too stupid to tell us what you want, so we at google have decided that we are so smart we will figure it out for you."

Quote:
"privacy-international-loses-all-credibility/"

That looks to be goo's plan, discredit the source. To be honest I hope it blows up in their face.

Not only Google

It's not only Google that may be revealing its true colours here. It seems that some squeaky-clean standup guys are looking a little tarnished too.

The solitaire comment might have been harsh but probably not far off the mark unfortunately.

Danny is toeing the google

Danny is toeing the google line over at Cuttlet Central.

Danny Sullivan wrote:
Just to clarify, I saw my most as more a critique of a bad survey than a defense of Google. There are real reasons to worry about the data that Google takes in, and there’s a lot more the company could do to reassure people.

SURVEY BAD, Google good, just weak in the "reassurance" dept.

yeaeeeeeeeeeeeh baby.

Man O' War

Nick said, "As mentioned on TW several times before, the first SE that rides in on a privacy angle would probably do well."

Looks like Privacy International just built a platform for Microsoft Live Search to begin to build its Man O'War on.

(As opposed to Google's Trojan Horse!)

Hedging bets

Matt's page name:

Quote:
"privacy-international-loses-all-credibility/"

And his post title:

Quote:
"Why I disagree with Privacy International"

Hedging his bets, eh? Pretty revealing thought not entirely surprising.

And some interesting comments to his post. Because, of course, we're on a "relentless smear campaign" here at TM, "and we all know why right?" Says Aaron Pratt.

Moreover, we're in cahoots (well, by association anyway) with "far-left anti-globalist" Noam Chomsky. Says one Pawel. "Far-left", uhuh. I guess that makes us all a bunch of f****** commies. Badder even, probably, than those whose censorship and dissent repression policies the likes of G and Y! are so merrily endorsing, duh.

And do check it out to learn how our old friend DH gets a haircut with a #3 around his head and a scissor cut on top.

Also, some advice on cookie cutting. (Hint: It's not about when it expires, it's about what you, er Google will actually do with it.)

But at the end of the day it's really just a question of reputation management, digg?

Now I do still wonder why Matt Cutts is demonstrating his utter distrust for all those good folks by nixing their links with the NOFOLLOW tag?

Um, maybe it's not that interesting after all...

:) Seriously, you can turn

:)

Seriously, you can turn off all google services (free or not) and still be tracked via sites that use adsense/analytics. Google itself is spyware. They do require special attention due to their visible and HIDDEN reach.

In the dark!

relentless smear campaign

I also saw that in the comments on Matt Cutts blog.

and we all know why

I don't - What's he getting at?

What's he getting at?

"Negative seeding" - check it out on his blog. (No, I'm not giving him a link - if push comes to shove, it could place him in bad neighborhood, wouldn't want to do that to him now, would we?)

Because, you know, “Threadwatch.org and people like Aaron Wall and Michael Gray do this type of stuff all the time” which is why we're rated a “hostile environment.”

For: “You see, there can be nothing more damaging than the results of someone who plants a negative seed that can grow and destroy your brand.”

On the other hand he claims to be grateful for bloggers calling Google out: “At the same time, if Google is getting truly greedy, SEO bloggers can expose issues and encourage change that in reality helps develop an even stronger product. Thanks guys!”

Etc. etc. etc.

If you're really interested in discovering some rhyme and reason behind all this, I'm afraid you'll have to ask him yourself. Because I for my part certainly can't...

...

From Matt Cutt's blog

Quote:
If I ran a privacy group, I would *find out which ISPs sell their user data*.

No problem - so would we all - they just don't really have any data to sell when compared with Google.

He goes on to say

Quote:
:) Note that I have nothing against Hitwise, Compete, or ISPs at all; I just think it’s unwarranted to call out Google when user data is being bought, sold, given to the government in the millions, or being leaked — by other companies.

Either its legit to sell data or it isn't - which is it?

Privacy International is a naive organisation which doesn't yet know enough about the web to really ask the questions that the people here can ask with more authority.

On the other hand I'll cede Matt this point

Quote:
But if Google doesn’t do a large-scale rebuttal within 24 hours, the argument goes to PI? I took a day to think this over and try to calm down a little bit and I’m glad that I did, but it’s weird to see the blogosphere (or Scoble, or Battelle) say “Google hasn’t responded fast enough or with enough umph in the blogosphere.”

If you want stupidity, at its best, you read Scoble or Battelle, if you want people to assess the underlying issues about the subject then the forums are going to be where the information is.

Quote:
“Threadwatch.org and people like Aaron Wall and Michael Gray do this type of stuff all the time” which is why we're rated a “hostile environment.”

Is this Danny Sullivan and Brett Tabke playing traditional media games of keeping the big political players on side so that they will send speakers to their conferences - because losing those speakers would devalue the conferences and lose them money. We all know, or at least should know by now, that political parties have often played the media by withdrawing interviewees for a period of time when a particular channel has said something critical - its a fairly standard technique for keeping traditional broadcasting journalists and outlets on side. Now you just see Danny Sulivan and Brett Tabke playing the same games because they are too tied up with the search engines to provide unbiased opinion any more. Threadwatch on the other hand has no conference interests to protect and thus can be more open with the views that are expressed.

Mat Cutts rightly points out all the things that Google are doing right on the privacy front, but the problem is that Google has been so successful in its mission '"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." that the amount of data that it holds is so vastly greater than other organisation that its privacy policies also need to be so vastly ahead of the opposition before it can avoid this sort of criticism.

It's a sick situation

where conference hucksters have to curry favor with search engine reps rather than the other way round.

Redemption is

Redemption is available.

Quote:
Following the recent publication of its consultative privacy rankings, PI has called on the major Internet companies to meet with the organization in July in San Francisco. The meeting has been called to clarify a number of data handling practices and is seen by PI as the first step to achieving an accord that will provide customers with consistent and strengthened privacy protections, and to give companies a greater understanding of the key challenges.

PI calls for sit down.

Looks like Privacy

Looks like Privacy International just built a platform for Microsoft Live Search to begin to build its Man O'War on.

Google as the evil empire and MS as the people's champion. We really will have gone full circle eh?

And his post title:

Well Matt did say he blogged in anger. I bet he regretted that initial title pretty quickly once he thought it through. With his link juice that could present a reputation management issue for PI and open another can of worms. Besides that it would be very public evidence of the retaliation PI are accusing Google of.

Still, good to be a position where you can fire off an email for a hand-job on the page (algorithm tweak I mean).

cough cough

google can spin it all they want

but when mainstream, non-tech media starts making fun of your company for creepy practices that violate users' privacy, the cat is definitely out of the bag.

on the daily show a few nights back, louis black had his regular segment "back in black", where he discussed google streetview.

Now the worldwide leader in freaking people out is upping the ante with Google Streetview - a program offering 360 degree street level pictures of your neighborhood. It's easy to use! Just log on to Google and click "I'm Feeling Violated".

Cough

Cough more than once.

Yahoo! Ask, Google ads all over the site, umm, he (Danny) can't say shit about impartiality. He wants a Czar? Beam and Mote. He bitches about 'public info' then quotes public info all over the site.

..

What is that song.... Oh ya,

"I See Those True Colors Shining Through...".

Last time I mentioned Danny had a vested interest in google... I got trashed by a bunch of folks...

I guess seeing is believing.

I spy on Google...

Hmm... I wonder when someone is going to develop an application that spys on Google. Turn the tables on them!
Although I am all for a legit company like Disney to use my info to make my (hopefully) return trips more enjoyable, I would hate for any ISP to spy on me, when I may be just doing research, etc. They start to form opinions on me, without giving me any chance to comment, correct.

BTW does anyone know whether Hittail is any good? They give free to start, then pay, of course. I saw a graywolf on Youtube on SEO, is that you? small world!

I have a few website to do soon, so learn how to SEO my webpages a must. I spent a fortune on website 2yrs ago. My web developer did not tell me to focus on Keyword. No wonder my website flunked. Expensive mistake.

[self promo link remove - I, Brian]

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