Google's private lives

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Imagine if Google started a newspaper. What an astonishing treasure trove of personal information they’d have to get started: personal emails, the details of individual searches, the contact books of gmail users.

Forget about a single newspaper, Google could launch countless newspapers, real life magazines, gossip sites, dating services…

Of course they wouldn’t – not least because of legal constraints – but more because most people would stop using their services pretty fast.

But that isn’t to say it doesn’t have the information to be able to do it. Or that it doesn’t pass bits of that information on to people to allow for targeted advertising. Of course this is a Faustian bargain many of us have chosen to make (this blog for one) – ‘free’ service at point of delivery in exchange for giving up some personal information to enable targeted advertising.

Yet it’s heartening to know that someone is worrying about it. Privacy International, a ‘human rights research and campaign organisation’ has released a report about the privacy practices of major internet companies. None do particularly well, but Google comes bottom. According to the report, the company collects mountains of information about its users, holds onto it for at least 18 months, and discloses very little about where and how that personal information will be used.

Perhaps to pre-empt this report Google clarified its privacy policy back in March (see IHT here), and has since questioned the methodology of the study (again according to Privacy International).

But given the increasing fuzziness of where our private world ends and where our public world begins surely it would make more sense for Google to promote debate and understanding rather than avoid it.

Written by Martin Moore

June 11th, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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