Google’s Do Not Track answer doesn’t track

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If you follow a company closely, like I follow Google, there is no better place to remind its executives of your continued interest than the company's annual shareholders' meeting. It keeps them on their toes.

I own a couple of shares of Google stock, so I headed up to Mountain View Thursday to attend the Internet giant's meeting and ask a few questions.  I had a number, but the meeting's rules limited us to two. The rules also precluded asking about pending  or possible litigation, so I couldn't really press them on Wi-Spy, the apparent federal investigation centering on ads for drugs or a possible FTC antitrust probe.

I decided to ask about Google's support of a Do Not Track mechanism.

Since last December when the Federal Trade Commission's report about online privacy advocated a Do Not Track mechanism, which would give us the ability not to have our activities monitored as we surf the web, support for the idea has surged. Two Do Not Track bills have been introduced nationally and one in California.

Three of the four major browser companies — Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari —  offer, or will soon offer,  a way to send a Do Not track message.  Only Google has declined. So, I asked what  Google's plans are for its browser, Chrome.

When my turn came, I asked if Google will add Do Not Track to Chrome, how its websites would respond to a Do Not Track request, and if legislation is passed and Do Not Track widely adopted, how Google revenues would be impacted.

Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who was running the meeting, bounced the questions to Susan Wojcicki VP of Product, Adwords & AdSense and David Drumond, Chief Counsel.  You can watch a video of the entire meeting here.  Our exchange comes at about 1:02:55.

"We've definitely been looking at it," said Wojcicki. "Our focus has been on trying to define exactly what that would mean."

Drummond described Google's involvement with privacy legislation as being "in the middle of it, trying to make sure it goes in the direction of protecting privacy, but also protecting innovation."

I'm not buying it. Google is stalling.

And, as I said in response, Consumer Watchdog is eager to engage with Google at the same table where these issues get resolved.  I reiterated that point in brief conversations with Schmidt and Drummond after the meeting.  I hoped to have a word with CEO Larry Page as well, but he ducked out before I could talk with him.

Ironically, on the same day as the Google shareholders meeting, California Sen. Ellen Corbett's bill that would ensure better privacy protections on social networking sites was up for consideration. It got 19 votes, two short of what was needed to pass.  But support is clearly growing for online privacy protections.

Corbett's bill will be back.  And, Consumer Watchdog will continue to press Google, Facebook and the rest of the online industry to respect our privacy.

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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