Monthly Archives: February 2012

The New Google Privacy Policy Is: You Have No Privacy

 One of the most talked about days since late January, when Google announced to the world that it will be changing its privacy policies, is finally here for some and will soon arrive within a few hours for others. This much dreaded day has really made people think more seriously about their privacy on the Internet and the steps they need to take to protect it.

I have read through countless news articles over the last several weeks and I can say that I have definitely learned a lot. If there is anything good that came out of Google’s lack of respect for their users’ privacy, it certainly is the fact that it woke more people up from their blissful slumber – myself included. I’ve always had this romantic image of Google as being that cool company that builds brilliant products for us to enjoy. For some reason, I always thought Google was different, that Google had a culture that subverted the ways things had always been done. I always thought Google was on our side.

But, I was thinking foolishly. I’ve found out that Google is like any other company and, in some cases, even worse. Its number one priority is raking in the tens of billions of dollars it earns yearly by selling our personal data to advertisers. There have been many voices that shouted and demanded to be heard these past several weeks. They demanded Google to listen to their concerns and stop its harvesting of our personal information. In response, all Google has done was give use disingenuous statements and lies – come to think of it, it seems like Google actually became even more smug and resolute about their plans.

They refused to hear our pleas and refused to give their loyal users the respect they deserve. Nope! Instead, Google sneered and spat in our faces. They couldn’t care less about their users – because for a company that makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising, the average Google user will always, always come in second. The advertisers come in first. You are not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product!

Yet, it is the average user who made little ol’ Google the global juggernaut it has grown up to become! We are the ones who watched your videos in the billions, we are the ones who entrusted our queries by plugging them into your search engine, we are the ones who flocked to your email service to chat with our friends, we are the ones who spent hours building you up! Now, how did Google repay us? By ignoring us! By vowing to change its privacy policies to create a new more intrusive one that will combine all our personal data across all of Google services so that Google can create “the faceless web”!

Well, Google, we’re not gonna take it anymore! It’s over! You have fallen in the hearts and minds of millions of your users who once placed you on a pedestal – but not anymore.  No more! And don’t you dare think that we’ll return, you already took us for granted. You’ve fooled us once, you won’t fool us twice.

The past couple of days I have seen traffic on my site skyrocket like never before. People are obviously concerned and are hungry for knowledge. They desperately want to know how they can better protect themselves. I’m glad I can be a very small part of the Internet revolution as more and more people demand greater online privacy protections. One person here and one person there might not stand a chance against Google – but, collectively, we have strength in numbers. Google doesn’t stand a chance! Google gains and retains power by promoting ignorance, by keeping the masses in a pacified state. However, consumer advocacy groups and individual privacy protection activists gain and retain power by spreading knowledge! We tackle the juggernaut head-on by taking the opposite approach.

So, Google can continue on its stubborn destructive path, but we won’t be silenced. The fight will continue on. It’s still full steam ahead for us too and we’re willing to fight toe-to-toe. March 1 might already be here or soon to arrive, but our work does not stop here. It’s only the beginning. We can’t be complacent with our privacy. We can’t just throw ours arms upwards in frustration and say “I’m done! It’s futile to resist! I’m tired!”. That’s exactly what Google wants you to do. They think people will eventually, at the very least, forget if not forgive too.

But we need to send back a message to Google, in no uncertain terms, that we will neither forgive nor forget. No way! Personally, I will continue keeping an eye on Google and giving you as much information as I can gather so that you can know more about this company.

In the meantime, we can all take the necessary steps to limit the damage to our privacy by deleting our search history on all Google services. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), illustrates how you can do this – click here

I highly recommend you disable third-party cookies on your web browser. If you follow the links on EFF’s website, you will find an illustration on how to do that too. Make sure you to double-check your browser’s security and privacy settings and increase it to its maximum level.

Uninstall Google’s chrome browser and toolbar – don’t ask the fox to watch your henhouse.

For added security use an anti-tracking add-on tool for your browser. Google owns many tracking devices which track your movement all over the web on literally millions of pages. So you’re not just vulnerable on Google owned websites, but on all websites that Google has a tracker on. An anti-tracking tool will prevent Google from spying on you. I wrote about this before – click here

Finally, share privacy and security knowledge with your loved ones. Make sure they are protected too. Also, keep the fight alive by urging your representatives in government to pass stringent and comprehensive online privacy laws to protect you. Americans have barely any laws to protect them – but there is now an initiative by the White House to protect your privacy. This initiative will only become successful if Google doesn’t strip it of meaningful protections. Americans, get your voices heard on this one.

For more information:

NPR, “Google to ramp up online tracking” – click here

NPR, “Google and privacy: is it time to give up?” – click here

NPR, “Protecting your privacy amid Google privacy changes” – click here

Forbes, “Will Google delay its new privacy policy?” – click here

CNN, “How to prepare for Google’s privacy changes” – click here

Wikipedia, a full list of Google products – click here

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A List Of Major Developments Since Google Announced Its New Privacy Policy

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Image via Wikipedia

Jan. 24: Google announces a plan to link user data across its email, video, social-networking and other services. The company says the move will simplify its privacy policy, improve the user experience and help advertisers find customers more easily, especially on mobile devices. Critics raise privacy concerns. The plan is to take effect March 1.

Jan 26: Eight American lawmakers, consisting of both Democrats and Republicans, send a letter to Google saying that they are concerned about Google’s plans to change its privacy policies and terms of service. In a separate strongly worded letter Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D- NC send a letter to the CEO of Google to ask him to appear before Congress.

Feb 1: Rival Microsoft Corp. runs full-page newspaper ads slamming Google and its new policy. Microsoft uses the opportunity to tout its own Web-based alternatives, saying for instance that users of its free email service, Hotmail, don’t have to worry about the content of their emails being used to help target ads.

Feb 2: CEO, Larry Page, declined to appear before Congress, but he sent two of his executive minions to appear instead. After being grilled for two hours, the Google executives failed to ease the concerns of the members of Congress. In fact, they made things worse. Rep. Mary Bono Mack said that the Google executives were not “forthcoming” and that she left the meeting even more confused and concerned than she had going into it. She suggested that Americans should stop using Google services “if Google goes too far

Feb 3: The European Union’s data protection authorities release a letter to Google asking the company to delay the new policy until they have verified that it doesn’t break the bloc’s data protection laws. Google says it had briefed data protection agencies beforehand and had heard no substantial concerns then.

Feb 8: A consumer watchdog group sues the Federal Trade Commission in an attempt to prevent Google from making its planned changes. The Electronic Privacy Information Center contends Google’s new policies would violate restrictions imposed in an agreement reached with the FTC last year.

Feb 16: The Wall Street Journal publishes an article exposing Google’s spying. The article revealed that Google deliberately bypassed security and privacy settings of Apple’s Safari web browser so that Google could track those users. Google admitted that it purposely bypassed the privacy setting, which resulted in Apple users being tracked without their knowledge. The following day, several Apple users file a class-action lawsuit against Google for violating their privacy.

Feb 20: Microsoft writes a blog post to reveal that Internet Explorer browser users were exposed to tracking too by Google. Microsoft said that Google deliberately confused a security protocol feature, which resulted in tracking cookies to be set on Internet Explorer browsers.

Feb 22: 36 US Attorneys General send a letter to Google expressing deep concern about their new privacy policy. They said that Google’s new privacy policy will expose users to violations of their rights and privacy. They urged Google to give users an opt-out option.

Feb 23: The White House unveils a consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The proposal is intended to give Internet users back control of their personal data and protect their online privacy. However, these proposed new guidelines are not mandatory for Google and advertisers to abide by and emphasizes self-regulation too much. Immediately after the White House made the announcement, Google finally caved and said that they will include a ‘Do Not Track’ option for their Chrome web browser. Google’s web browser was the only one that did not have this anti-tracking functionality, while everybody else’s did. Google says it will include the Do Not Track by the end of the year. Why does it need to take that long? Who knows…it’s Google.

Feb 24: Google hires Susan Molinari as their head lobbyist in Washington. Ms. Molinari has extensive close ties with the Republican establishment. She was once a Republican representative in Congress herself. Google hired her because they want to influence how lawmakers vote in the coming months. They hope that Ms. Molinari can convince Republican lawmakers to vote against stringent online privacy laws.

Feb 26: The Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission says that Google is giving its users a “binary and somewhat brutal choice” with their new privacy policy.

Feb 28: France’s regulator says a preliminary analysis finds that Google’s new policy appears to violate European data-protection rules. The regulatory agency CNIL says Google’s explanation of how it will use the data is too vague and difficult to understand “even for trained privacy professionals.”

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European Regulators Say Google’s New Privacy Policy Is Confusing ‘Even For Trained Professionals’

 The fight between Google and European authorities is getting even more intense!

Earlier this month, in my post titled “Europeans increasingly rejecting Google due to lack of privacy“, I informed you of a group that sent a letter to Google asking the company to delay their new privacy policy. The Article 29 Working Party is made up of data protection authorities from the member states of the European Union.

You can read my earlier post – click here

After the group found out that Google had plans to change its privacy policies, they politely asked Google to “pause” their plans to carry out the change because they needed a sufficient amount of time to fully investigate Google. Europeans take their online privacy very seriously. They wanted enough time to complete their analysis to make sure their citizens were protected from any violations or exploitation of their personal data.

However, despite the efforts of the European data protection authorities, Google sent back a letter telling them that the company would not stop their plans to implement their new privacy policy. Google claimed that they already gave the European regulators enough time and that they met with them before the change to its privacy policies was publicly announced. Google basically told the group “No and get lost!”

Google was well aware that the Working Party didn’t really have authority itself to enforce its recommendation.

Oh no you didn’t!

Hold on, not so fast!

Well, fast forward almost 4 weeks later and the European privacy regulators are back with a vengeance! The Article 29 Working Party decided to give its French data protection member the lead task to investigate Google. The scathing preliminary result of that investigation was released yesterday to the media. The French privacy agency is called the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL) – and they did not mince words. In a letter addressed to Google (dated February 27th, 2012), the French agency is brutally honest with their assessment:

“The CNIL and the EU data protection authorities regret that Google did not accept to delay the application of this new policy which raises legitimate concerns about the protection of the personal data of European citizens.”

CNIL found that Google’s new privacy policy is actually not more transparent and comprehensive. They suggest that Google is actually being deceptive with their new privacy policy because it does not give users the whole truth. It isn’t enough to tell users the bare minimum about what the new privacy policy will mean to them, you have to tell users exactly how their personal data is going to be used. The French agency is concerned about what Google is hiding from its users.

I previously wrote about how Google has a problem telling its users the whole truth. For more on that – click here

“By merging the privacy policies of its services, Google makes it impossible to understand which purposes, personal data, recipients or access rights are relevant to the use of a specific service. As such, Google’s new policy fails to meet the requirements of the European Data Protection Directive”

They said that said Google’s new privacy policy actually raises more fears and concerns about the company’s actual practices. They question the lawfulness of Google’s intended changes to its privacy policy.

“The CNIL and the EU data protection authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of data across services and have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing. They intend to address these questions in detail with Google’s representatives”

Furthermore, the group made sure to address Google’s lie about meeting with European regulators before they unveiled plans to change their privacy policy:

“Contrary to public statements by Google representatives suggesting that data protection authorities across the EU had been ‘extensively pre-briefed’, not all authorities were  informed, and those that were informed only heard about the changes a few days before the announcement. They saw the contents of the new privacy policy at best a few hours before its public release, without any opportunity to provide any constructive feedback”

Oh SNAP! Ha-ha…Google must be really red-faced right about now.

And, for your information, the French authority has the power to fine companies up to 300,000 euros (or about $400,000) for each breach of privacy. It can also ask a court to stop the company from violating privacy laws. Other European countries can enforce their laws in similar ways too.

The French agency concluded that Google’s privacy policy is too vague and difficult to understand, “even for trained privacy professionals“.  They said they will send a full questionnaire to Google before mid-March and they reiterated their recommendation to Google to stop their plans in introducing their new privacy policy.

Hey Google, don’t try to pull a fast one on European privacy protection groups – they can knock you out, ha!

To read the full letter CNIL sent to Google, click here (PDF)

CNIL’s website – click here

For more information:

New York Times, “France Says Google Privacy Plan Likely Violates European Law” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google privacy overhaul ‘unlawful’, say regulators” – click here

BBC,Google ‘fails to meet EU rules’ on new privacy policy” – click here

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Disappointing: Only 12% Of Google Users Are Aware Of Google’s New Privacy Policy!

 Shocker!

…actually it’s not so surprising – it’s actually depressingly to be expected.

Anyway, guess what, according to a new poll released the other day, only 12% of the British public has bothered to read through Google’s new privacy policy.

The survey and research was conducted by Big Brother Watch and YouGov. They found that despite the fact that 92% of those included in the survey use at least one of Google’s many services – almost half….yes HALF of them didn’t even know that Google is changing its privacy policy. The precise number is actually 47% of those surveyed, which is absolutely disappointing.

Google announced earlier this year that it will combine all your personal data from all of Google’s services (Gmail, YouTube, search engine, Picasa, etc.) into one detailed profile of you. This combination of data is an effort by Google to make it easier to figure you out better and destroy anonymity. A Google spokesperson said that the company wants to eliminate “the faceless web“. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. They plan on making it more efficient to sellyour information to advertisers, which is big business for the company. Google earns about $40 BILLION a year in cold hard cash by monetizing your personal data. Sweeeeeeeet! Ka -CHING!

But it’s not so sweet for the vast majority of us who are the victims of this invasion of privacy. Ever since Google announced that they were going to combine our personal data, there has been an unprecedented amount of criticism hurled at the company. It probably caught Google off-guard because this massive company is used to getting a disproportionate amount of good press, while its dirty secrets are often swept under the carpet. Their unofficial company motto was “Don’t Be Evil” – but, as the late Steve Jobs once said, that’s “bulls**t!”

In my other posts on this site, I wrote about how Google received greater scrutiny from members of the US Congress and Senate, dozens of US Attorneys General, several consumer advocacy groups, several other companies, European regulators, and so many more. All are deeply concerned about Google’s increasing desire to harvest more of our personal data and Google’s lack in fairness.

Google has attempted to swat away privacy complaints by launching an awareness campaign to alert the public of its impending alteration to its privacy policy and terms of service – but evidently it failed. This despite the company trying to give itself credit for going through “exceptional lengths” to notify the public. Even the Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said last Sunday that “nobody reads online privacy notices”. He’s right, nobody does!

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The policy was only announced six weeks ago and, as Google knows from its advertising business, six weeks isn’t a long campaign – it’s very short. Neither consumers nor the regulators have had long to get their heads around the changes. It’s bad the way it’s been decided that it’s coming in and Google hasn’t reached everyone.

“The impact of Google’s new policy cannot be understated, but the public are in the dark about what the changes actually mean. If people don’t understand what is happening to their personal information, how can they make an informed choice about using a service? Google is putting advertiser’s interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean.”

Google’s new privacy policy will go into effect this Thursday, March 1st, 2012. Many people are still in the dark about what Google plans on doing with their information. The average person needs to take greater care of their privacy and educate themselves about the implications of using Google’s services. You don’t want to unwittingly sell your soul to the devil. Get proactive about your security, actively advocate for comprehensive Internet privacy laws to protect you, and spread the message to family and friends.

Remember, you are not Google’s customer – you are Google’s product!

For more information:

PCPro, “Only one in ten Google users have read privacy changes” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google users ignore major privacy shakeup” – click here

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Make Sure To Clear Your YouTube History Too Before March 1st!

 A few days ago, I informed you on how you can better protect yourself against Google’s more intrusive tracking, which starts on March 1st. If you want to know how to clear your search history before Google’s new privacy policy kicks in this Thursday, please look at my other post about that by clicking here

Okay- so what I forget to tell you is that you have to clear your history with not only all different Google accounts you own, but, also, all accounts you have on all of Google’s services. The link I gave you above only shows you how to clear your Google search engine history. But – if you want to clear your history for your YouTube account, you have to go onto the YouTube website and find the relevant page to clear your history there too.

To clear your YouTube history, go to YouTube.com then sign into your account. Then, click on your username located in the top-right corner. Select the “Video Manager” link.

On the left-hand side of the screen you will see the following options: “Uploads”, “Playlists”, “History”, “Search History”, “Watch Later”, “Favorites”, and “Likes”.

First, click on “History”, then click on the gray button that says “Clear all viewing history”. That should clear your page and a green button should come up that confirms that you have cleared your history. But before you exit that page, make sure you click on “Pause viewing history”. This will stop Google from keeping track of your history in the future.

Next, click on “Search History” and do the exact same thing you did before in this section too.

Furthermore, if you really want to, you may also clear your saved Favorites and the Likes you made to videos. Just place a check next to the video and click on “Remove” – this will prevent Google from permanently storing your Favorites and Likes after March 1st.

You’re done! That’s how you clear your YouTube history. If you have an account on the Google owned photo sharing website, Picasa, clear your history there too.

One last thing – in my other post, which showed you how to clear your search engine history, I gave you guys this link: http://www.google.com/history

The link was not hyperlinked. You had to actually copy that link into your address bar and go to it yourself. The reason for that is because Google won’t allow people to be referred to that history page. If you got referred to that page, the link would not direct you to your history page. Instead, it would take you to Google’s homepage.

I guess Google is attempting to stop a mass of concerned people from deleting their history. For more information on this and more, please read this article – click here

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US Federal Trade Commission Chairman Gives Candid And Revealing Talk About Google

Yesterday, the chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Jon Leibowitz, was a guest on the C-SPAN show “Newsmakers”. He was interviewed by Brendan Greeley, writer for Bloomberg, and Juliana Grunwald, a writer for National Journal.

It was a very interesting interview and Mr. Leibowitz revealed many things that I will share with you in a moment. First of all, I have to acknowledge how wonderfully Brendan Greeley performed. He was prepared with tough questions to ask the chairman. I thought he did a great job making sure he could get the most out of the chairman.

The interview was about 30 minutes long and here are the highlights (a link to view the interview video is located at the bottom of this post):

  • 04:00 – “We called for more transparency because nobody reads online privacy notices…”  - Jon

This is so true. Nobody reads them.

  • 04:20 – “…choice because consumers should have the right not to have their information collected…your computer is your property…people should have the right not to have their information collected particularly about sensitive issues.” - Jon

Again, very true! It’s our personal data and our property. Google should have no right to profit off and sell our personal data to advertisers without our explicit consent

  • 04:53 – “There seems like there’s two buzz words here and I’m gonna try to see if we can explain both of them. There’s self-regulatory, which is what the industry is pushing…and then there’s a word that kept on showing up in the White House report which was stakeholder approach…it doesn’t seem like the two of those are gonna work very well together. You have the industry taking care of itself and you have the White House suggesting that you get industry plus private watchdog groups plus Congress getting together to figure out the best approach…it seems like Washington is where the stakeholder goes to die.” - Brendan

Right on, Brendan! Self-regulation is absolutely nonsense and ineffective. How can you let Google and the advertising companies police themselves? It doesn’t make sense. This whole Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that the White House eventually wants to make law will not amount to much if Google and its advertising minions are allowed to dominate the upcoming negotiations to fully develop this bill. An independent body needs to keep an eye on Google.

  • 11:16 – “I’m not too sure many people will opt-out. I happen to like getting, you know, ads that relate to the things I’m interested in – so we sense is not too many people will opt-out” – Jon

Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you thinking?? You don’t mind getting creepy targeted ads? You don’t mind these tracking companies spying on everything you do on the web so that they can analyze the perfect ad for you? This is ridiculous.

I have written on here before about a store that sent baby ads to a pregnant teenage girl before her parents even knew she was pregnant – click here

There was also an article where a man said he rather have his daughters spied on by tracking companies so that they can target ads for them, rather then his daughters seeing random ads that could potentially include…heaven forbid…a Viagra commercial! Kids see random ads all the time on television, magazines, and on billboards – I don’t think it’s going to damage your children. Forfeiting your child’s privacy to prevent them from seeing irrelevant ads for their age group and gender is really pathetic – click here

But Jon is correct on one thing – people do not opt-out when the opt-out of tracking option is not the default setting. It’s not that people want to be tracked, it’s because people don’t know better. The fact is that many people don’t change the default settings of their web browser. They also don’t look around to make sure their privacy and security settings are set to its maximum level. Google and their advertising minions know this fact already.

  • 12:14 – “Other than saying that [Google] have been clear and that it’s a very binary and somewhat brutal choice that they’re giving consumers…I can’t say much more and I’ll just leave it at that, but we’re aware.”Jon

Exactly. Google is telling its users that they have to either take it all or leave it all. There is no middle option. First of all, they need to tell users the whole truth about why they’re changing their privacy policies - which is to make it easier to sell your information to advertisers. Then they need give users an option to opt-out of this data harvesting. Shame on Google!

  • 12:20 – “‘Binary and brutal was plenty’” – Brendan

Ha!

  • 12:23 – “Perhaps too much” – Jon

Nope. You’re just being honest.

  • 12:26 – “You’re suggesting that they be more explicit about what they do and I wonder if they were completely upfront…about what they are doing with your information whether there would be a market at all. I wonder if I would sign up for a service that said ‘in exchange for this free way to get in touch with your family and friends we’re going to sell information about you’. In a way, they are misrepresenting what their fundamental purpose is” – Brendan

Again, excellent job Brendan. Google is definitely lying to its users. Google is not changing its privacy policies to simply give you a better experience. It is changing it to make it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. You are not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product.

Now, Google says that they don’t “sell” your private information to advertisers, they simply “share” it. Google thinks we’re stupid, ha-ha. Selling….sharing…whatever…a distinction without a difference.

  • 12:46 – “I’m not sure everybody is selling information about consumers” – Jon

Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you saying? Selling….sharing…a distinction without a difference!

I got the impression that Jon was hinting at something here, almost like he was trying to say that another company sells your information even more than Google – that other company being Facebook. That’s only because Facebook is a social networking site that requires you to share a lot more personal information about yourself. But Google launched Google Plus last summer and said that its own social networking site will now be an “extension” of Google itself. In addition, unlike Facebook, Google has multiple services all over the web and it has multiple tracking devices all over the web. Google’s tracking devices are on millions of websites. So enough of the “pick between the lesser of two evils” game – just protect our privacy!

Afterwards Brendan asked him if it would be possible to have a ratings system for privacy policies, something similar to the ratings system for movies and television shows.  Jon replied back saying that the advertising industry can come up with that system themselves and that it might not be such a bad idea. But then, Brendan replied back pointing out it wouldn’t be taken seriously because, again, that would be self-regulation. You need an independent body to check these things.

  • 14:28 – “It does seem like we’re still talking about a self-regulatory approach” – Brendan

I know! Enough with this self-regulation nonsense. It does not work!

  • 15:19 -”I also think, speaking for myself not the commission…privacy legislation has a place and if we could come up with… a comprehensive balanced, Congress could, set of guidelines….that would be probably a good thing” – Jon
  • 17:12 – “This is not a year Congress is going to pass a lot of legislation…but it is a year we should be working on privacy and so the best way to do it is….government using its bully pulpit and pushing very hard for the best self-regulatory standards” – Jon

Even though self-regulation won’t do anything to really protect Americans online, you just have to settle for less because Congress cannot pass a new law during an election year…well, doesn’t that suck? But we’re not going to settle for less. We don’t want to give Americans a false sense of security!

  • 20:00 – “It feels like Do Not Track is an answer to a browsing habit that’s about 3 years old in the sense that more and more people get their information over the Internet through apps and through their mobile devices…how do you keep the FTC from always fighting abuses that are 3 years old.”  - Brendan

Yet again, excellent job Brendan!

  • 20:45 – “We’re not a regulatory agency. We’re an enforcement and policy agency, so it’s harder for us to set up rules in advance, so…you’re right…it’s a tricky question…responding to how do we make things better going forward as opposed to correcting mistakes a few years ago…we try our best using the tools that we have” – Jon

Um…okay….thanks?

A few minutes later, between 22:50 -23:19, Brendan asks an important question about the differences between how the United States protects its citizen’s online privacy versus how the Europeans do it. Europe has very stringent laws in place to protect privacy.

Then, between 23:45 – 24:31, Jon admits that the European system emphasizes regulation and the American system emphasizes enforcement. He then claims that both systems essentially want to protect their people equally and that he doesn’t think the American system is that far behind Europe as some people like to believe.

It’s funny that Jon claims that the American and European systems are essentially equal, but then he admitted earlier that the American system falls short due to a lack of regulation!

Then, in around 24:40, Juliana brings up the “right to be forgotten” plan that the European regulators are now working on to implement that will give Internet users the right to demand Internet companies delete all personal data about them when asked to do so. She then asks if this should be an idea the United States should seriously consider as well.

In response to this question, in between 24:51 -25:55, Jon rambles on about how children need to be protected because they are the most vulnerable, but he fails to really answer the question. Keep in mind that – although it is absolutely important to protect children and it’s nice to bring that up and all – BUT there are already federal laws in place to protect children under 13. Older children and adults have absolutely no real protections online whatsoever! The European “right to be forgotten” will give everybody, young and old, their privacy back! All Americans are vulnerable.

Then, around 26:25 – 26:54, Brendan brings up another great point. He says that independent watchdog groups like The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) play a very valuable role. He says that EPIC almost functions as a regulator for the FTC because when they bring up complaints to the FTC that is when the FTC starts to finally take action (as they did with Google’s first attempt at social networking called Google Buzz, which launched in 2010).

  • 26:55 – “I do think that they perform an enormously valuable role…we want the best information we can from the smartest people who think about these issues” – Jon

They do, indeed. Thank goodness for these groups!

For a video of the full interview, you can watch it on C-SPAN’s website – click here 

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Has Google Neglected To Follow Through On The Promises In Its Compliance Report With The FTC?

 According to a Google compliance report, which was obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through a Freedom of Information Act request, Google promised it would do a number of things to notify users of the change to its privacy policies and terms of service.

This self-assessed report was submitted to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on late January. Google has to regularly submit these reports to show how they are respecting the privacy of its users because they agreed to a consent order with the FTC after Google admitted it violated the privacy of it users when it launched its social networking tool called Buzz in 2010. Google also had to pay out millions and is now being more closely watched by the federal agency for 20 years.

In its first compliance report, Google claims it has gone through “exceptional lengths” to notify users of the changes to its privacy policies. They claim that their efforts to notify users include 5 elements, including this one:

“Google will run a homepage promotion on Google.com (and other top-level domains) for five days from the launch date. The text will not be dismissible”

Um…I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see this happen. It’s now Sunday, February 26th, 2012 and Google will launch their new privacy policy on March 1st. Where are the homepage promotions, Google?

Do you guys see it or not? I’m wondering if it could just be me. Ha-ha, but I doubt it because Google is known for not following through on things properly or not at all.

In that same report, Google said,

“An email will be sent to every Google Account holder, except those associated with enterprise (Google Apps) customers. A separate email will be sent to the registered administrators of Google Apps domains, so that they notify their users as they see fit.”

But Google totally screwed this one up. It ended up sending emails to people who don’t have Google accounts. Many were angry that Google knew about their email address even though they have never done business with the company. I have received that same Google email and I’m not connected with Google at all and I’m not alone. Google later called it a “glitch”, but it left people even more suspicious. I wrote more about it in another post – click here

I sure don’t want a company like Google harvesting even more personal data about me when it has these so-called glitches. Who knows where your data can accidentally end up and who gets to see it!? Identity fraud is inevitable if Google left to handle your personal data.

Google has a big problem with not only complying with the FTC’s consent order, as argued by EPIC and many other groups, but it also has a problem with executing plans it outlined in its own self-assessed report!

Google should not be given credit for taking “exceptional lengths” to notify users when it’s so clumsy and negligent.

You can read Google’s full compliance report - click here

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Americans Need To Take A More Prominent Role To Protect Their Browsers Against Google’s Tracking

The Obama administration’s consumer Privacy Bill of Rights initiative is a very small step to a desperately needed legislation to comprehensively protect Americans from Internet tracking. Currently Americans have hardly any protections against irresponsible websites and tracking companies. The United Sates is one of the few developed countries in the world where there are no real restrictions on the Internet. In fact, websites are not even required to have privacy policies and they are free to collect just about any private information of Americans to their heart’s content- real names, credit card information, online buying habits, what websites you visited, what you “liked”, your location, your computer information, etc.

So when the White House unveiled the online privacy proposal many were optimistic, including myself. Many are still optimistic that after the Commerce Department finishes meeting with tracking companies, Internet companies such as Google, and consumer advocacy groups that some real change will come out of all this.

But are we just kidding ourselves? Should we really expect real and comprehensive protections to come out these meetings? Do you really think Google (which makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising) and those tracking companies will really allow stringent legislation to pass? I sure do not think so.

There have been attempts to have laws passed for years and they have resulted in nothing so far. In fact, bipartisan members of the US Senate have already introduced privacy protection bills before, including Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain. Kerry said,

“Since the 1990s, Congress has been talking about this issue and complaining about abuses but doing little to stop them. Instead of continuing the now monthly exercise of publicly scolding companies, we need to make Congress establish common sense rules of the road that protect consumers.”

He is so correct! It’s definitely common sense to want to protect vulnerable Americans from spying and intrusive data harvesting. Yet, something so obvious is so difficult to accomplish. Why is that?

Of course, much of it has to do with Google’s intensive lobbying. I wrote more on this in a past post – click here

Just last May, Google sent a strongly worded letter to the California State Senate opposing that state’s plans to introduce a stringent Social Networking Act bill.

And now, all of sudden, Google has a change of heart when it supported President Obama’s consumer privacy bill? It’s obviously because Google knows that the bill won’t change anything significantly. It’s all a public relations ploy to pacify Americans to make it look like they will get real protections – not a chance.

Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum and former chief privacy officer of DoubleClick (the now Google owned online advertising company) said,

“I think there are a lot of companies that have been concerned by the recent litigation and constant criticism who see this as an opportunity to be at the table and help shape solutions. There have been opt-out options that have been around for 10 years. They run, roughly, at about a 1% opt-out rate. ‘Do Not Track’ isn’t going to make more people opt-out. You still have to go in and adjust the settings and most of us don’t want to bother with it. What it will do is actually make that setting work…if we try to solve all of the privacy issues for the whole industry, we’ll probably be arguing for the next 50 years.”

Google and the tracking companies know that there is mounting pressure for better security on the web and now they think that it would be best if they are allowed in the conversation to produce tough laws – this way, they will have opportunity to not only look good to the public but also have the chance to significantly water-down any privacy bill.

Remember that the proposed privacy plan unveiled by the White House is strictly voluntary. Companies can reject it if they want to, but most won’t because they don’t want to look too bad in front of the public. Once they accept to abide by the bill, they will have to stick by it or face punishment by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive practices. But the FTC, as noted by EPIC, has so far failed to punish Google for violating its consent order. The FTC doesn’t really have much weight.

Also, remember that the proposed Do Not Track feature will not block tracking. All it does is that it will signal to tracking companies that you wish to not be tracked. However, the tracking companies can still track you and see what you do – they just won’t give you personalized advertisements and make it as obvious to you. They will still have ability to track you under what they call “market research”.

The Do Not Track proposal is at minimum a way to share your preference with tracking companies and Google – but it’s also a dangerous false sense of security.

The best things you can do for yourself right now is the following:

1. Use a secure browser – one that has good default settings that protects your security and privacy. It’s good if a browser has anti-tracking functionality and if it blocks third-party cookies from being set on your browser. Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari do great jobs. According to PC Magazine, Internet Explorer 9 has the best anti-tracking tools available – click here

2. You need extra protection for your browser. Get an anti-tracking add-on downloaded to your browser that blocks tracking, full-stop. These anti-tracking add-ons will give you a list of exactly who is attempting to track you and they will block them immediately. They don’t just ask tracking companies to respect your preferences, the add-on will immediately go right in and block tracking anyway – no questions asked. I wrote about this before – click here

3. Block cookies! Make sure your browser is set to block third-party cookies. The privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has six steps to help protect you better. Step 4 illustrates how you can make sure cookies are blocked on your chosen browser – click here

4. If you use Google’s web browser (Chrome) or toolbar – immediately go and uninstall it right now. Of all the major browsers, Google does the least to protect you against tracking. In fact, Google doesn’t even have an anti-tracking functionality on its browser – the only major browser on market which fails to do so. Asking Google to protect you from tracking is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

 5. Finally, you have to proactively fight for your rights! That means you can’t let Google and the tracking companies dilute the important conversations that will be happening in the coming months, which could eventually lead to comprehensive privacy legislation for all Americans. If you let Google dominate the conversation and lobby their way out of real protections for Americans, you will let Google win. You need to actively participate in this struggle by writing and calling up your state representatives in government and the White House. Say that you want real protections, not just feel good stuff!

For more information, please read these articles:

Computerworld, “Obama online privacy plan faces challenges” – click here

Bloomberg, “Obama Web Privacy Framework Boosts Chances for Rules With Teeth” – click here

Time, “Why Google and Others Are On Board with Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights” – click here

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Federal Court Dismisses Lawsuit But Says Advocacy Group’s Concerns Against Google May Still Be “Legitimate”

Yesterday – Friday, February 24th, 2012 – a federal court denied the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, while it granted the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) motion to dismiss EPIC’s lawsuit.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that her hands were tied and that she really couldn’t do anything because the consent order between the FTC and Google is not subject to judicial review. The judge said that the FTC has the sole authority to take actions as it sees fit for violations of consent orders.

The consent order Google agreed to last October contained nine parts – EPIC raised three relevant parts in particular that it says Google violated:

“Part I prohibits Google from misrepresenting (a) the extent to which it ‘maintains and protects the privacy and confidentiality’ of personal information, and (b) the extent to which it complies with the U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor Framework.”

“Part II requires Google to obtain ‘express affirmative consent’ before ‘any new or additional sharing by [Google] of the Google user’s identified information with any third party . . . .”

“Part III requires Google to implement a ‘comprehensive privacy program’ that is designed to address privacy risks and protect the privacy and confidentiality of personal information.”

Google’s new privacy policy will combine all your personal data from every service Google offers (YouTube, Gmail, Google search, etc.) into one detailed profile of exactly who you are. Google wants to get to know you better, to figure out exactly who you are. A Google spokesperson once said that their mission is to eliminate “the faceless web”.

What Google is basically trying to do is that they want to sell your personal data to advertisers. Advertisers love getting more detailed information of us because it makes it easier to target personalized advertisements at us. Keep in mind that Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising.

You are not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product. Therefore, think of it this way:  when Google introduces its new more intrusive privacy policy at the start of next month – think of it as them reorganizing and relabeling their inventory to make it more appealing and easier to sell.

EPIC contends that Google is in clear violation of the consent order and that the FTC has mandatory nondiscretionary legal duty to punish Google. EPIC argued that the court can compel the FTC to punish Google because it unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed action that it should have already done by now.

However, the judge felt that there was still nothing the court could do because Congress has not given it the jurisdiction to fully oversee federal agencies and force them to take actions. She cited pass decisions to back her ruling and said that ultimately it is up to the FTC to evaluate whether or not Google violated the consent order.

With that said, though – the judge made sure to emphasis that her ruling should not be interpreted as an opinion about the merits of EPIC’s challenge to Google’s new privacy policy. Judge Jackson said the court has not made any decisions on whether or not Google’s new privacy policy violates the consent order; the court simply cannot force the FTC to take any action:

“EPIC – along with many other individuals and organizations – has advanced serious concerns that may well be legitimate, and the FTC, which has advised the Court that the matter is under review, may ultimately decide to institute an enforcement action. So neither EPIC, nor Google, nor any party with an interest in internet privacy should draw any conclusions about the Court’s views on those matters from this opinion.”

After the ruling, EPIC said that it would appeal the decision on judicial review and ask a federal appeals court to rule that courts can require federal agencies to enforce final orders.

You can read Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s full ruling – click here (PDF file)

For furthur background and to read related posts I wrote on this issue – click here

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Google’s New Head Lobbyist Endorses Mitt Romney And Says She Worries About Newt Gingrich

Susan Molinari was announced this past Thursday, February 23rd, as Google’s vice president of public policy and government relations for the Americas. She will be the head lobbyist for Google in Washington.

In the video below, uploaded by the Mitt Romney campaign, Susan Molinari is seen attacking Newt Gingrich as an unreliable leader. She says, “I worry about the Republican Party’s chances to defeat President Obama if Newt Gingrich is the nominee“.

Hmm, interesting….

I wrote more about her in my earlier post, click here

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