James O'Neill's Blog

June 12, 2007

Should we be working on our privacy ranking ?

Filed under: Privacy — jamesone111 @ 11:56 am

Steve characterizes some conversations as being “You suck.” “No – You Suck” types, and 

 Privacy international published a report last week which rated a couple of dozen organizations with a major presence on the web. The BBC fared pretty well. Google came out bottom – the only one labeled “Hostile to privacy”. Google’s Matt Cutts thought the best way to handle this was to play the man not the ball: complaining that  other people did bad things too, and so it must be a bad study. It seems some of his colleagues took the idea to heart and started ringing up the press and saying “Casper Bowden is on their PI’s Advisory board. Casper is now a Microsoft employee. Therefore PI is biased in favour of Microsoft ” Put Casper’s name into your chosen search engine and decide for yourself if he’s the kind of chap an organization like PI would want on its board. As PI say in an open letter to Google, they have given Microsoft a pretty good kicking on privacy over the years. If their report is biased – it’s pretty subtle of us to push Google down and keep Windows Live in the second to bottom category (with Apple and AOL) and Microsoft as a whole in the next one up.

Google has a problem on privacy right now. Everything from the EFF worrying about Governments spying on users via Google Desktop search to The Times talking about the privacy risks of  “All-seeing Google Street View”  to privacy bodies petitioning the Federal Trade Commission about Google acquisition of DoubleClick, to the  infamous Eric Schmidt comment that Google wanted to know enough about you “to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ” provoking reactions from  a raised eyebrow in the FT  to howls of derision in the Grauniad to personal abuse at ZDnet. One of the best posts I’ve read in all this is from Shelly Powers it includes a summary of what Google knows about her and ends with a quote I like

isn’t it about time Google realized that not everyone shares the same faith in the company’s purity of purpose; nor the same belief in the inherent neutrality and fairness of algorithms? Two years. What was I searching for two years ago–I can’t remember now, but Google can. Two years. That’s longer than my first marriage. Come to think of it, Google probably knows as much about me, or more, than my first husband. Considering my first husband, though, this isn’t surprising and one of the many reasons I divorced him.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the option to divorce Google.

I  don’t want to get into a You suck.” “No – You Suck” conversation – the story isn’t being written “Apple, AOL, Facebook, Windows Live all suck, Google worse still”, and maybe it should. Any organization needs to win my trust in their “Purity of purpose” before gathering information about me. In an earlier post Shelly talks about people who “ love it when Google ‘personalizes’ everything. But what cost personalization? At what point can we no longer trust what we’ll be receiving on the internet? ” These questions are the ones that I find interesting. Ultimately would you like Microsoft to have better regard for your privacy, or do you trust the purity of purpose of big organizations (from Supermarkets, to Internet companies to the government) ?  Do you think people consciously trade information for something they value (making a call on how trustworthy the organization is) or do you think many of us are sleepwalking into something sinister ?


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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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