Google toolbar privacy glitch shows need for tech recalls and rules

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Harvard Professor Ben Edelman has just revealed that Google’s toolbar sent information about consumers’ web activity back to the Internet giant’s servers even when they thought they had disabled the toolbar.

Edelman deserves credit for catching Google and documenting the flaw in this excellent article.

As PCWorld reports Google said it’s fixing the problem, as well they should. But the incident raises bigger questions. Google apparently knew about the problem for sometime before Edelman revealed it. That’s why they were able to rush out a fix.

Why were they silent about this obvious invasion of consumer privacy until Edelman revealed it?

Just as owners are notified when a car is recalled, computer users should be notified when their privacy is breached. The Federal Trade Commission needs to establish rules requiring notification when "privacy recalls" are necessary.

It shouldn’t be a problem for Google; they would have already gathered the IP addresses and should be able to send the message to affected users. And, as Edelman suggests, any toolbar user should have the right to delete from Google’s servers any information gathered while the glitch was in effect. The FTC should insist on that, too.

Consumer Watchdog
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