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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Google's Data-Collecting Habits Drawing More Scrutiny

It's going to get worse for Google:  The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Congress Blog 
By Zack Christenson, American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research 
10/29/12 02:00 PM ET - 0752 Western Jakarta Time

Earlier this month, European Union regulators informed Google that they’re unhappy with Google’s new privacy policy and that it will need to make changes to better protect the privacy of its users. The concern arises over how Google is collecting users' data and what they’re doing with it, and in turn how they’re informing their users on how they’re collecting and what they’re using it for. The EU would like clearer language, in a more understandable less legalese format, so that the average user can clearly understand what’s taking place when the use Google products.


This all comes about because of a move that Google made in March of this year, when they consolidated the privacy policies of most of its products (YouTube, Search, News, etc.) into one, singular policy that covers each of their product sites. After the move, EU regulators began investigating the process by which Google collects information and how they protect their users privacy. They requested more information from Google in May, and now are apparently unhappy with the answers they’ve received from Google. The letter from EU regulators says:

"Google’s answers have not demonstrated that your company endorses the key data protection principles of purpose limitation, data quality, data minimization, proportionality and right to object. Indeed, the privacy policy suggests the absence of any limit concerning the scope of the collection and the potential uses of the personal data.”

Google has a long history of accusations of being cavalier with consumer privacy, which I’m sure is what worries the EU. Just weeks ago, Google was slapped with a record $22.5 million fine for violating Internet privacy. The fine was levied for purposefully circumventing Safari’s privacy protections — going around protections that were installed and turned on at the behest of the user. Before that, Google was involved in a large amount of controversy over its WiFi snooping in Europe and the U.S. It seems that the cars Google uses to take pictures for its Streetview feature were also collecting data on private citizens through their wireless networks. It was found that Google had been collecting emails, passwords, photographs, and even chat messages. After initially claiming it was an accident, European regulators found evidence that Google was using the collected data for research purposes.

Google has also faced accusations of manipulating their search results to favor their own interests. Despite proclamations that Google doesn’t manipulate their results, they seem to be one of the only Internet companies that believes it. In a Congressional hearing late last year, Google testified on its search practices alongside two of the companies claiming to be adversely affected by its practices. These companies were Yelp and NextTag, whose representatives both testified they felt their companies were hurt by the anti-competitive practices put into place by Google. Many other companies are a part of a coalition of companies that feel the same way, including Microsoft, Hotwire and Oracle.

The American Consumer Institute earlier this year published a study examining whether or not Google does, in fact, manipulate their search results. One test was done to see if Google would favor their own sites more often than competitors would favor theirs. The study pitted Google against Bing and Yahoo. The results showed that Google favored their own products two times more often than either Yahoo or Bing, while Yahoo and Bing showed no such favoritism. The ACI study similar results just when applied to other areas, as well.

Examination and rectification of these problems is essential for the market to work correctly — because not correcting these problems invites government intervention. Government intervention brings with it onerous regulation and oversight on the entire technology industry at a time when our economy can least handle such intrusions. For free markets to work, government must stay small and out of the way — otherwise, it’s inhibiting the innovative practices that allowed Google and others to grow into the great successes they are today.

Christenson is a digital tech writer for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

Related reports:

  1. Search the world's information, including webpages, images, videos and more. Google has many special features to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
    europe.google.com - Cached
  2. [Aug 2, 2011] BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google faces a total of nine antitrust complaints which EU regulators are now investigating, two sources said on Tuesday, as rivals ... ( 2 Comments )
    www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/02/us-eu-google-idUSTRE... - Cached
    More results from reuters.com »
  3. [Mar 1, 2012] LONDON (Reuters) - Data protection agencies in European countries have concluded Google Inc's new privacy policy is in breach of European law, EU Justice ... ( 8 Comments )
    www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/01/us-google-privacy-eu... - Cached
  4. The European Union, led by the French data protection commission, will take aim at Google's controversial privacy policy tomorrow, a new report claims. France's CNIL ...
    news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57532286-93/eu-will-tell... - Cached
    More results from news.cnet.com »
  5. The local version of this pre-eminent search engine, offering UK-specific pages as well as world results.
    www.google.co.uk
  6. [Oct 16, 2012] PARIS (Reuters) - Google has four months to make its privacy policy comply with requests from European Union data protection watchdogs or start facing the ... ( 3 Comments )
    www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/16/google-eu-privacy... - Cached
    More results from huffingtonpost.com »
  7. Google.eu - Google, Google.eu - Google - Whois record for Google.eu from DomainTools
    whois.domaintools.com/google.eu
  8. EU watchdogs have said Google must revise its privacy policy. It follows the firm's decision in March to consolidate 60 separate privacy policies into a single ...
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19959306 - Cached
    More results from bbc.co.uk »
  9. European officials today requested that Google provide clearer information about its privacy policy to users and modify its data collection tools to avoid gathering ...
    www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2411010,00.asp - Cached
  10. European privacy regulators have found flaws in Google's revised privacy policy, which may breach EU data protection laws. A majority of the European data ...
    www.zdnet.com/eu-regulators-find-legal-problems-in... - Cached


 
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