Google Unmoved by Bureaucratic Sabre-Rattling over Privacy

by Matt Klassen on February 29, 2012

With the news that Google has hired former member of Congress and longtime lobbyist Susan Molinari to represent the search engine giant to governments in both North and South America, it looks like the company’s new bureaucratic mouthpiece will soon have her first task, mollifying dozens of ruffled and misinformed US state attorneys general.

Over the past few weeks attorneys general from 36 different states have written to Google CEO Larry Page articulating concerns over changes to the search engine giant’s privacy policy, particularly those related to the addition of an unified signup system; changes, the AGs claim, that are both ‘troubling’ and invasive.

But as is so often a case with knee-jerk bureaucratic reactionary sabre-rattling, the letter from the attorneys general lacks true comprehension of the ongoing privacy debate, showing instead a bunch of misinformed government officials furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation.

Briefly, Google’s new privacy policy, schedule to go into effect on March 1st, is designed to allow greater information sharing among Google’s suite of products.

As I’ve written before, in an effort to have one sign-up standard for all Google services, the revamped email creation process now demands that new users create both an a Gmail account and a Google profile and this means that when a user creates a new account, he or she will automatically be signed up for Google+.

The letter from the AGs takes issue with this change, arguing that Google needs to provide an opt-in option for users and make the opt-out option truly meaningful. “It rings hollow to call their ability to exit the Google products ecosystem a ‘choice’ in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use — and frequently rely on — at least one Google product on a regular basis,” the letter says.

But here’s the thing, in writing this letter to Google the state attorney’s general have tipped their hand, showing the country two things useless bureaucratic entities should always want to keep quiet, their ineffectiveness and their ineptitude.

For years Google has shown a steadfast unwillingness to alter its course, whether it be privacy or product development, in the face of criticism, meaning that unless the FCC or FTC weigh in here (which they won’t) the letter from the attorneys general will likely fall on deaf ears. But with the fact that Google won’t listen already established, the question remains, should Google listen to these privacy concerns?

As Erika Morphy for TechNewsWorld wrote regarding the aforementioned information sharing across Google programs, “[Google’s] efforts to increase its Google+ user base via Gmail might prove grating to some users who are particularly sensitive about privacy, or to people just looking to slap up a new email account without a lot of bother.” [italics mine]

At the time Google first announced its intention to create seamless sharing between its suite of programs there were relatively few voices concerned about the privacy implications, since aside from being annoying, there really weren’t any. According to Ryan Radia, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “there is no articulable privacy risk with Google’s new policy, and the AG letter doesn’t explain one.”

Instead what we have here are dozens of misinformed state officials crying out for justice all the while demonstrating their overall incomprehension of the relevant privacy issues of the day. Should Google consider changing its privacy policy? Perhaps, but certainly not based on anything the attorneys general have presented.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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August 28, 2012 at 5:40 am

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