Response to our video "Don’t Be Evil?"
lampooning Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt’s attitude toward privacy
has been overwhelming since we launched it with a jumbotron digital ad
in New York’s Times Square last week. Views soared past the quarter
million mark on Monday of the three-day holiday weekend.
The satirical video shows Schmidt driving an ice cream truck and gathering personal information. We launched the campaign
to make the public aware of how out of touch Schmidt and Google are
when it comes to consumers’ privacy rights. The video is also meant to
build support for "Do Not Track Me" legislation in Congress.
Some people seemed to think we meant the video literally. It’s a
cartoon, but it’s supposed to prompt serious discussion and action. Even
Google gets that. Their first reaction on Thursday:
"We like ice cream as much as anyone, but we like
privacy even more. That’s why we provide tools for users to control
their privacy online, like Google Dashboard, Ads Preference Manager,
Chrome incognito mode and ‘off the record’ Gmail chat. You can check out
these tools at google.com/privacy."
I’m glad the video prompted them to try and explain to consumers
where to find what privacy tools they do offer. That’s part of the
problem; most of us don’t know where to look.
Take a look at a recent screen shot below of Google’s home page.
If Google really cared about your privacy, the company would use that
prime space under the search box to explain what’s offered, rather than
hawking Google’s browser. The word "Privacy" — with no indication or
explanation that it involves any settings or user tools — is in the
smallest type on the page.
Google touted its ad preferences manager in its response, which,
after three clicks, opts you out receiving what Google calls "interested
based" advertising. Those are ads that Google decides to serve up to
you based on looking over your shoulder and tracking your Web surfing.
Opting out doesn’t stop Google gathering your data. It just stops it serving ads based on the data.
Here’s a screenshot of the Google home page on Labor Day.
The Internet giant is still hawking Chrome. Using that upper right
space for a true "Do Not Track Me" or a "Make Me Anonymous" function
would show sincere commitment to consumer privacy.
Yes, Google has taken some privacy friendly steps, for which it
deserves credit. SSL encryption, using the HTTPS protocol is now the
default mode for Gmail. It’s an option for search. But does anyone
think they would have been offered without constant pushing from privacy
On Friday Google announced it was working to make its privacy policies more comprehensible. Writing on the Official Google Blog, Mike Yang, assistant general counsel said:
"Long, complicated and lawyerly—that’s what most
people think about privacy policies, and for good reason. Even taking
into account that they’re legal documents, most privacy policies are
still too hard to understand.
So we’re simplifying and updating Google’s privacy policies. To be
clear, we aren’t changing any of our privacy practices; we want to make
our policies more transparent and understandable."
I’m glad Google finally admits it. Does anyone think this would be
happening unless there was a continued focus on the Internet giant’s
practices from projects like Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google?
But the real challenge is ensuring that consumers finally have
control over what data is gathered about them, how it is stored and how
it is used.
Some critics of our campaign reacted by suggesting that our Inside
Google project is hypocritical because our Consumer Watchdog Website
uses Google analytics. I’ll let Consumer Watchdog President Jamie
Court set the record straight:
"Our back-end platform on Consumer Watchdog hardwires
Google analytics into the site, and it’s a proprietary platform owned by
Edelman Communications, bought recently from Grassroots Enterprises,
that we cannot control or alter. We don’t see eye-to-eye with Edelman on
many issues and have been in the process of leaving that platform for
"The move should be complete by November, and we will be on an
open source system that, like our Insidegoogle.com platform, or
Oilwatchdog.org open source platforms, chooses to avoid Google
analytics. The exercise shows how hard it is to escape Google on the
Internet, or know Google is behind many products and services.
"Most people think of it as a search engine, but it’s a lot more,
which is why we are so concerned about its power and growth and
established InsideGoogle.com. We didn’t choose to have Google Analytics
on the back end of our main site, nor do we use data it provides, and we
cannot take it off, but we can switch to an open source system, which
avoids Google Analytics, and we are in the process of doing just that."
Anytime CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
want to sit down and discuss privacy, I’ll buy the ice cream.
Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog will continue to hold their feet to the