Friday, June 1, 2007

Google Being Investigated Over Privacy Concerns

Update: Blogger is being an absolute piece of junk....pieces of this story have gone missing, so parts of it may look rushed. It's because they are.

I've got numerous stories saved in my Google Reader account (oh the irony) regarding pending investigations in the EU regarding Google and privacy concerns. Stories here, here, here and here.

Essentially, the concerns boil down to the EU being concerned about Google retaining search data targeted to specific IP addresses (or users if you use a Google account) for 2 years (the former policy was to retain targeted information indefinitely).

Google's responses to these concerns are unavailing in my opinion.

Their first reason for retaining data is that it improves Google products, and 2 examples are given (monitoring whether the best result that is clicked on most is number 1 in the search results and also monitoring spelling errors to improve Google's spellchecking feature). Neither of these examples require storing IP addresses for any length of time. For both examples, Google could easily use anonymous data to improve their search engine.

The second reason given is that IP addresses are needed to improve security. However (and correct me if I'm wrong) I see no reason that 6 months worth of targeted data would not suffice. If someone is exploiting flaws in Google's services, engaging in click fraud or other forms of attacks, 6 months of data would more than suffice to detect abuse. Working for a technology company myself, most abuse in my experience is detected using current or very recent data, not data that has languished on a server for 2 years.

The third reason is that Google wants to ensure compliance with future laws that have not yet been implemented, and for which compliance is not yet necessary. This excuse is ridiculous and falls flat on its face. Google is under no obligation whatsoever to comply with laws that might be passed in the future. If those laws are passed, it would be perfectly suitable (and necessary) for Google to comply with those laws when they are passed. I personally don't go out of my way to comply with laws that have yet to be passed, and I see no reason for Google to be doing so.

I personally use Google's non-search services such as Blogger (obviously), Gmail and Google Calendar. I went out of my way to make an account and was forced to read through a privacy policy before making use of these services. With this in mind, I think it is perfectly acceptable for Google to hoard my data (they kind of have to in order to provide e-mail services).

However, Google Search does not require you to read a privacy policy. There is little to no indication whatsoever that Google is retaining any data. I, using Google's other services, consented to have my data stored on Google's servers. Regular Google search users did not provide this consent, and I think it is unethical for Google to be hoarding this data for as long as they do.

Also, instead of making up flimsy excuses that don't withstand the powerful forces of common sense, Google should come right out and admit that this data is being retained in order to more accurately target ads to individual users to increase Google's bottom line.


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