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Race to the Bottom

Google rated 'hostile' by major privacy rights organisation.

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Not surprising to some rights group Privacy International rate Google not only as 'worst' but as directly 'hostile' to privacy, a view widely held by this site and others for as long as the Brin/Page company's been in existence.

'We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial, but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google's approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organisations', write PI.

'While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy.'

'Google's status in the ranking is also due to its aggressive use of invasive or potentially invasive technologies and techniques.'

Specific Failures

Specific privacy failures listed by PI include the following.

  • Account holders must accept Google retaining a large quantity of information about them and often for an indefinite length of time without clear limitation on subsequent use or disclosure and without an opportunity to delete or withdraw personal data even if the user wishes to terminate the service.

  • Google maintain records of all search strings and associated IP addresses and time stamps for at least 18 to 24 months and do not provide users with an expungement option. There is a prevailing view amongst privacy experts that 18 to 24 months is unacceptable and possibly unlawful in many parts of the world.

  • Google's Orkut has access to personal information including hobbies, employment, address, phone number, contained within user profiles which are maintained even after users delete their profiles or remove the information.

  • Google collect all search results entered through Google Toolbar and identify all Google Toolbar users with a unique cookie that allows Google to track the user's web movement. Google do not indicate how long the information is retained nor offer users a data expungement option in connection with the service.

  • Google refuse to follow generally accepted privacy practices such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines and elements of EU data protection law. As detailed in the EPIC complaint Google also fail to adopted additional privacy provisions with respect to specific Google services.

  • Google log search queries in a manner that makes them personally identifiable but fail to provide users with the ability to edit or otherwise expunge records of their previous searches.

  • Google refuse to give users access to log information generated through their interaction with Google Maps, Google Video, Google Talk, Google Reader, Blogger and other services.

But otherwise, as Pascal Pfiffner points out, they've got some great UIs.

See Also
The Technological 20070605,00 — Gmail
The Technological 20070605,01 — Pascal Pfiffner

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