Privacy Watchdogs To Google: Don't Be Evil


A group of privacy regulators from 10 countries this week sent Google a letter urging the search giant to rethink how it addresses privacy with new product releases. According to the regulators, Google Buzz and Google Street View are the main Google offenders, and despite Google's efforts to relieve both services of privacy concerns, the regulators aren't satisfied.

According to the group, its concerns aren't just for Google. But the letter, addressed to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, takes Google to task for neglecting certain privacy issues -- such as how Buzz, upon its release, offered public viewing of a user's most-mailed Gmail contacts -- in its race to make better, faster applications for the Web and Google's own platform.

"We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world's citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications," reads the letter, which was dated April 19 and signed by data protection and security regulators from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, New Zealand, Canada and Israel.

"In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private one-to-one based e-mail service, and converted it into a social networking device," reads the letter.

"It is unacceptable to roll out a product that unilaterally renders personal information public, with the intention of repairing problems later as they arise," the regulators continue. "Privacy cannot be sidelined in the rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world."

Google made changes to Google Buzz upon its February release following criticism about the most-mailed contacts feature. According to the regulators, however, there's just as much a problem in Google not addressing what was a "readily apparent" privacy concern in the first place, before Buzz launched.

The regulators also pressed Google on Google Street View, which according to the letter's criticism "was launched in some countries without due consideration of privacy and data protection laws and cultural norms."

Google should, "at a minimum" offer "clear and unambiguous information about how personal information will be used to allow users to provide informed consent," the regulators write, as part of a list of six suggestions for better privacy policies in new Google releases.

"We recognize that Google is not the only online company with a history of introducing services without due regard for the privacy of its users. As a leader in the online world, we hope that your company will set an example for others to follow," the regulators urge.

Google did not respond to ChannelWeb queries early Tuesday.