Google: privacy policy is vague

by Ruud Hein May 31st, 2007 

Peter Fleisch, Google's global privacy counsel, while defending Google's privacy policies, has admitted to the BBC that Google's privacy policy is vague at at least two points.

"The general principle is that we are going to maintain the privacy of our users; that is pretty fundamental.

We will never transfer to third parties, including advertisers, any personally identifiable information about our users.

Our goal is to be as transparent as possible with our users when it comes to privacy. That transparency builds trust and we will succeed or fail on whether our users trust us.
Peter Fleisch

Which sounds good. But when the BBC reporters pressed him on two escape-clause like parts of the privacy policy, Mr. Fleisch had to backpaddle.

Problem clause #1

"When we use third parties to assist us in processing your personal information, we require that they comply with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures."

Mr. Fleisch's response:

We ought to be able to do better than that now that you have drawn my attention to that particular clause.

Problem clause #2

We may also share information with third parties in limited circumstances, including when complying with legal process, preventing fraud or imminent harm, and ensuring the security of our network and services.

Mr. Fleisch's response:

It is kind of vague. I wish we could do better on that one.

Ownership is the problem

I don't think Google is evil. Or good.

I don't trust them with any data. Of course not. Who trusts a company, especially one of that size? You trust individuals, friends, family members.

Still, I let them have my data because their business interests are directly aligned with keeping my data under as many wraps as possible.

The problem though is that Mr. Fleisch is speaking a bit of a half-truth when he says;

The general principle is that we are going to maintain the privacy of our users; that is pretty fundamental.

We will never transfer to third parties, including advertisers, any personally identifiable information about our users.

On the face of it, when taken literally, this is true. Google will not transfer that information. But if someone like Rupert Murdoch where to buy a majority stake in Google, that data did just transfer; when ownership of the company changes, the assets, including your private data, transfers with it.

Google isn't the problem; the future is.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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