SANTA MONICA, CA — The consumer group that recently launched a popular online animated satire of Google’s privacy problems embodied in an ice cream truck said the revelation that a Google engineer tracked children down shows that private information is never safe if it is in Google’s hands. Consumer Watchdog called on Google to publicly answer some basic questions about how effectively it protects consumers’ privacy.
“The ability of a Google engineer to use his position to access private information about children in Google’s black box shows the satire’s warning about the Pandora’s box of our privacy problems is more real than anyone would want to believe,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide To Raising Hell, published this week. “In the back of Google’s ice cream truck is at least one engineer who tracked down children. There’s no clearer evidence of why we need national ‘Do Not Track Me’ legislation. Would Google oppose such a list even if it were just for children?”
Watch the “Don’t Be Evil?” animation at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ouof1OzhL8k&feature=player_embedded.
Consumer Watchdog called on Google to answer four questions:
– How many other Googlers have invaded consumers’ privacy?
– How many have been disciplined or fired for doing so?
— How many times have hackers — government or private — gained entry to Google’s treasure drove of data?
— Would Google support “Do Not Track Me” legislation?
Earlier this month Consumer Watchdog launched a satirical video — now viewed more than 330,000 times — with a Times Square Jumbotron ad depicting CEO Eric Schmidt distributing ice cream to children while a computer engineer gathered information about them. Wednesday Google acknowledged it fired an engineer for accessing kids’ personal information on Google accounts and using it to taunt them, a situation foreshadowed in the video, “Don’t Be Evil?”.
“The point we’ve been making is that when so much personal information is accumulated by one company it is inevitably a target for abuse,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google project. “Consumers have a right to control their data and whether it’s even gathered. They have a right to know if their privacy is breached.”
Consumer Watchdog cited Google’s privacy fiasco with the launch of “Buzz”, when it revealed users’ most frequently emailed contacts, and the Wi-Spy scandal, when its Street View vehicles gathered information from private Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries around the world, as examples of Google’s cavalier and arrogant approach to handling consumers’ private information.
Consumer Watchdog said that if Google refuses to provide consumers with tools necessary to control what personal information is gathered about them, Congress must enact “Do Not Track Me” legislation.
If Google expects consumers to trust the company with their data, it needs to provide real control over how their information is used or if its gathered at all, Consumer Watchdog said. And, Google must provide complete transparency about the security of its databases.
The privacy intrusions using Google’s data can come from hackers, governments, “rogue” employees or Google itself when the company decides an invasion suits its latest business agenda.
“The problem isn’t one rogue or clueless employee,” said Simpson. “The problem is a corporate culture driven by a computer engineer’s mindset that permeates Google to the core: More data is always better even if you don’t know what you’ll do with it when its first gathered. With the right algorithms we know best how to use your data for you. Don’t ask permission; you can always ask forgiveness.”
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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Consumer Watchdog’s website is http://www.consumerwatchdog.org. Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://insidegoogle.com