Tag Archives: Privacy policy

Britain and Brazil Are Concerned About Google’s “Vague” Privacy Policy

Google is getting a lot more pressure from international privacy watchdogs. This time it’s coming from Britain and Brazil.

Britain’s deputy information commissioner, David Smith, made his first public comments against Google’s new privacy policy last week. His comments against Google’s more intrusive privacy policy was made a week after it took effect. He criticized Google at a conference in Westminster where he said that Google’s new privacy policy is “too vague”:

“The requirement under the UK Data Protection Act is for a company to tell people what it actually intends to do with their data, not just what it might do at some unspecified point in future. Being vague does not help in giving users effective control about how their information is shared. It’s their information at the end of the day”

Other European regulators have recently said that Google’s privacy policy is misleading and fails to disclose the whole truth to its users. The EU data protection authorities are currently working on an investigation of Google and will have their results some time soon. Their preliminary finding was scathing and said that Google’s new privacy policy was difficult to understand “even for trained professionals”.

The European Union takes the privacy of its people very seriously. Their data protection laws from the 1990s are one of the toughest in the world and they recently announced that they plan to revise their laws to make it more stringent and uniform. There is a plan to introduce a “right to be forgotten” which will allow people to demand Internet companies remove personal data about them permanently. Of course, Google is extremely worried that more privacy protections for Europeans will harm their bottom line. The company has been lobbying European authorities for a while now, trying to block any chance of more protections for Europeans to pass.  David Smith said this about the right to be forgotten,

“Google can’t just say: I’m just a messenger, I have no responsibility at all for the messages I carry. Given their dominant role and their huge influence here they have a responsibility to ensure they operate in a fair and reasonable way. Where things are drawn to their attention and it can be established they are delivering content which is defamatory, where it is harmful to individuals and there is no public interest justification Google have a responsibility not to serve up that information”

It’s a good thing that European regulators are keeping a close watch on Google. Let’s hope that they support their harsh words for Google with real action against the company. Later this month, the French data protection authority, CNIL, will release their full report. Data protection authorities from all EU member nations will respect the findings and coordinate their actions against Google. It may include hefty fines and even criminal prosecution if Google doesn’t comply with their laws.

Alright, let’s move away from Europe and head on over to South America – Brazil to be exact. The Brazilian Justice Ministry wants some serious answers from Google and they want it very soon. Brazil doesn’t want to play games with the company and has said that if Google’s privacy policy breaks their laws they will sanction Google. Brazil said a full investigation of Google is imminent if Google doesn’t respond back with satisfactory answers justifying their new privacy policy. The ministry’s Department of Consumer Defense and Protection is particularly concerned about how understandable Google’s new privacy policy is and whether users are fully aware of the implications of using Google’s products.

Interesting – things could get a lot worse for Google and a lot better for the average Internet user. We’ll wait and see how things develop.

For more information:

The Register, “Google’s privacy policy: Incoherent and confusing” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google’s privacy policy branded ‘too vague’” – click here

The Guardian, “Google’s privacy policy ‘too vague‘” – click here

Reuters, “Brazil questions Google’s new privacy policy” – click here

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International Group Of Privacy Commissioners Express Concern Over Google’s New Privacy Policy

The Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities (APPA) wrote a letter to Google expressing their concern over Google’s new more intrusive privacy policy, which many believe means that users have no privacy at all anymore.  The group is made up of member states including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Korea.

The privacy commissioners from all the member states have great doubt about the security of people’s personal data in the hands of Google. The company is collecting more data about its users than ever before by combining personal information from all its products and services. This will make it easier for Google to figure you out and ultimately, among other things, sell that information to advertisers for huge profits.

“…combining personal information from across different services has the potential to significantly impact on the privacy of individuals. The group is also concerned that, in condensing and simplifying the privacy policies, important details may have been lost.”

 The APPA wants Google to make it easier for users to find out what personal information the company has of them and they want all personal information to be available to users. Everything Google knows about you should be made aware to you and you then should be allowed to permanently delete it if you so choose. The APPA is also concerned about the risk Google is putting vulnerable minority groups through by collecting sensitive data about them. Google has the potential to collect information about your age, address, name, sexual orientation, religion, politics, race, etc. The company knows too much and this is troubling.

The APPA also pointed out when Google destroyed over 60 different privacy policy from all their services and reduced it to one – they ended up oversimplifying their privacy policy. There is good simplification that allows users to understand a privacy policy better, and then there is bad simplification that actually makes the privacy policy more ambiguous. We don’t know Google’s true intentions or what exactly they mean.

For example, Google’s old privacy policy for their photo-sharing website, Picasa, stated that data would be deleted within 60 days of a user’s request. This detail no longer exists in Google’s new privacy policy. Google admits to collecting “sensitive” personal information – but nobody really knows how they handle that personal information. The APPA has a problem with this.

The letter from the APPA to Google was signed by Timothy Pilgrim, the Australian Privacy Commissioner.  A day after the letter was sent, Google responded to it. However, it did nothing to ease concerns and New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner, Marie Shroff, was annoyed that Google neglected to offer complete answers. This criticism is similar to what a US congresswoman, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, said about Google after she grilled two company executives at a congressional committee hearing last month. The congresswoman said that Google was not “forthcoming” with answers and that she was left with even more concerns. Obviously, Google has a problem telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

To read the APPA’s full letter to Google – click here

For more information:

Stuff.co.nz, “Heat turned up on search giant” – click here

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Will Greater Internet Privacy Protection Result In The Loss Of The “Free” Internet?

Alright, look – I have a bone to pick.

Yes, I do! Something makes me uncomfortable – it actually ticks me off.

I’m uncomfortable about some of the stuff that’s being written to defend Google’s spying; some of the nonsense that’s being published to fend off legitimate criticism of Google. I have read through countless news articles since I started this site and, let me tell yeah, I think it’s a disservice to your readers if you do not give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

First of all, I’ve seen some really great articles published, which have done the correct thing to fully inform readers of all the implications of using any of Google’s products or services. I’m glad those articles have been written and if you are responsible for those articles – I want to thank you for doing a great job these past several weeks.

On the flip side, and very much in the minority these past several weeks, are people who for some reason can never see Google as doing any wrong. There is always a defence for every Google lie, for Google tracking users, for Google collecting even more information about us, and pretty much anything Google says or does. Sometimes the arguments they use to defend Google seem so outrageous to me that it leaves me to think that these people must be paid by Google one way or another (although some have included disclaimers that they actually have family members who work for Google).

Anyway, I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why some people will always defend Google’s actions – they might be in denial. However, I must offer a rebuttal against two of the most repeated arguments used to defend Google:

The first of which is that the burgeoning Internet revolution to demand back our privacy from Internet companies (such as Google) and advertisers will only result in us losing the “free” Internet. There is this doomsday scenario that they portray will completely result in the destruction of the Internet as we know it today.

The rationale behind this fear-mongering by Google and their partners in crime is that if Internet users do not allow their personal information to be harvested, combined together, and then meticulously analyzed by these companies – we will only be hurting ourselves in the long run. They blackmail us into forfeiting our information so that we may use their services – yes, I’m gonna go there – I think it’s a form of extortion!

They demand grossly unreasonable amounts of personal information from us so that we may have the privilege of using the Internet. But the Internet is not a privilege – it is becoming increasingly a way of life. As more and more of our lives become intertwined in the virtual world – it is almost impossible to not have some sort of online presence if we want to be an active member of society.

Demanding we sell our souls to these companies in exchange for entry in the necessary global community is unethical and should also be legally reprehensible. A blogger named Max Tatton-Brown who had a piece published on Wired UK wrote:

“It’s also another fascinating example of the sense of entitlement people feel to free online services (news, search, maps, encyclopaedias) — and how that is at odds with their understanding of how these companies make money…Google [has] recently done an excellent job of including unmissable banners for their users that explain how they make money and where privacy fits with that.”

Excuse me, Max, but Google’s services are not “free”. There is definitely a price we pay for using those services. We pay with our privacy and the forfeiting of our personal data – this is the currency that Google greedily accepts and will never willingly settle for less. This price we pay is exorbitant! Frankly, Internet users are being gouged and ripped-off by Google! We pay through the roof to use their services. Every time we plug-in our unfiltered thoughts into their search engine, it’s recorded by Google; every time we send and receive an email on Gmail; it’s read by Google; every time we watch that silly YouTube video, it’s noted by Google! Everything we do is constantly tracked all over Google and even on websites not owned by Google via their tracking devices!

I demand a refund from Google, ASAP! I also want them to give me a receipt of my purchases, chop-chop! I want to know exactly how much they took from me and if their charges on my online privacy credit card is a reoccurring expense! Come to think of it, if we had to choose between paying with our privacy or paying with cold hard cash – I rather pay with cash thank you very much. At least this way, I can more easily keep track of just how much Google is really costing me and hold them accountable.

Right now, we know very little about how much debt Google is putting us through. Recent surveys have shown that, although the vast majority of people are deeply concerned about lack of privacy on the Internet, a very small percentage actually know just how damaging it is and what exactly to do about it. Google has people in the dark about what it’s truly costing Internet users to continue using Google products and services – this to me is a form of theft.

Furthermore, isn’t it ironic that Google now has the audacity to lecture Internet users for demanding “free” service? Wasn’t Google the same company, just a few weeks ago, that so publicly denounced anti-piracy bills that would have enforced copyright laws on the Internet? It was Google that was accused by other companies of aiding and abetting Internet users to download free material. It was Google that was trying to fend off copyright owners who wanted to protect their material from mass consumption without any monetary compensation.

My oh my, haven’t the tables turned on Google? If anybody is responsible for this supposed culture of entitlement for free material, Google has nobody to blame but itself. It is Google who fueled, led, and cultivated this culture from the ground up. Now that this entitlement for free stuff has the potential to hurt Google’s bottom line – it’s suddenly a bad thing. Ha! Well, tough luck! You reap what you sow, Google!

Oh and by the way, there are many great services on the web that have been designed to be completely free. It’s amazing what a community of people can do when they pull together their talents to create wonderful free content and services for people, without any hidden costs.

The second argument, and is closely related with the first, is that advocating for greater online privacy protections will ultimately result in the stifling of innovation. Max wrote,

“Bearing in mind that we as a society are receiving tools from these companies that are pushing our civilisation to entire new levels of sophistication, what cost should we be prepared to pay for this? Is it really outrageous to meet that by being shown even more relevant adverts more unobtrusively than ever?”

I categorically reject this argument. Google has used this argument to blackmail governments around the world to permit the company to continue their tracking of Internet users. It’s ridiculous to say that online consumers have to give up everything of themselves so that Google can continue doing what it does.

There are many successful companies that have been built around the concept of free content because people got together to make it happen. Also, keep in mind that because Google’s business model depends on over 90% of its revenues to come from advertising, it will always side with its number one customer – which is the advertisers. The average Google user is not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product!

Google makes enormous profits from advertising – about $40 BILLION every year. If governments demand Google to stop tracking users so that it protects their personal data, gives them greater online freedom, and puts a halt to creepy mutated personalized advertisements – then we will all be better off for it. And guess what, Google will still earn huge profits. Perhaps it won’t hit the same gigantic number it has become accustomed to, but I guarantee you that you certainly won’t be seeing Google at an Internet company food bank any time soon. Google might experience a bit of withdrawal pains from its addiction to gigantic profits from selling our personal data without our full consent, and Google might throw a hissy fit – but it’ll eventually get use to it.

Demanding stringent and comprehensive online privacy protection laws will not throw the baby out with the bath water. Installing free anti-tracking add-on tools to your browsers will not damage the “free” Internet. Adopting a “Do Not Track” button on all browsers and requiring default settings on all web browsers so that it automatically blocks third-party tracking cookies will not result in the bankruptcy of Google.

Therefore, for heaven’s sake, stop the fear-mongering and misinformation coming from Google and their minions. We have a right to privacy and Internet freedom. We shouldn’t have to choose between two extremes: it’s either you have zero privacy or you have zero Internet. C’mon! Whatever!

Google seems to love forcing users pick between two extremes – they don’t believe in a middle option. Just like how they refused to listen to several consumer advocacy groups and US Attorneys General to give users an opt-out option from their new more intrusive privacy policy – instead Google said you either fully embrace their new policy or hit the road. It just shows how arrogant and confident they are in their position that they could muster up the gall to tell users to quit using Google services altogether as form of an ultimate opt-out.

Well, Google better be careful what they wish for because it might just come true. As more and more people educate themselves on the damaging consequences of using Google services, many will eventually completely opt-out for good.

Greater privacy protection laws will not damage Internet freedom, quite the contrary; it will only increase freedoms and privacy.

You can read Max Tatton-Brown’s full article by clicking here

For more information:

ITWorld, “Will Do Not Track kill the ‘free’ Internet?” – click here

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A British Android Smartphone Owner Sues Google Over Privacy Policy Bait-And-Switch

 Google’s new company slogan should be: “Another Day – Another Lawsuit”

As more and more people start waking up from their blissful slumber, expect to see more legal nightmares for Google. After Google deliberately bypassed the privacy and security settings of Apple’s Safari web browser so that Google could spy on those users – several Apple Safari users filed a class-action lawsuit against Google for violating their privacy and intentionally exposing them to other potential threats.

Well now – a British man named Alex Hanff has filed a lawsuit at a small claims court to demand reimbursement from Google for about £400. That is how much it will cost him to replace his Google Android smartphone.

Mr. Hanff says that Google left him with no other option but to discard his phone completely when the company decided to go ahead and implement their new more intrusive privacy policy – despite public outcry asking the company to reconsider.

He says that because Google changed their privacy policy, they broke the contract terms he agreed to when he purchased his smartphone. He bought the phone under the understanding his personal information would be used in one way and now Google said they will use it in different way. Mr. Hanff isn’t going to let Google pull a bait-and-switch on him. He said,

“The changes are a significant infringement of my right to privacy and I do not consent to Google being able to use my data in such a way”

It’s an expensive change for Britain’s estimated 9.3 million Android users who are not allowed to opt-out of the new privacy policy. All they can do is either accept increased intrusion to their privacy or give up their phones altogether. If Google is going to force people to accept the new policy, then Google should be forced to pay people back the money they deceived them out of.

Last week, Attorneys General from 36 US states and territories sent a strongly worded letter to Google asking them to give consumers an opt-out option from Google’s new privacy policy. They said that Google’s privacy policy will lead to various violations of their privacy and it will be expensive for people to escape Google. They wrote:

“This invasion of privacy will be costly for many users to escape. For users who rely on Google products for their business – a use that Google has actively promoted – avoiding this information sharing may mean moving their entire business over to different platforms, reprinting any business cards or letterhead that contained Gmail addresses, re-training employees on web-based sharing and calendar services, and more. The problem is compounded for the many federal, state, and local government agencies that have transitioned to Google Apps for Government at the encouragement of your company, and that now will need to spend taxpayer dollars determining how this change affects the security of their information and whether they need to switch to different platforms”

Google refused to pay any attention to their concerns, though. Google has refused to listen to anybody but themselves and advertisers. Google’s business model depends on 90% of their revenues to come from advertising. Google wants to harvest more of our personal data so that it can sell it to advertisers.

This lack of respect for the concerns of others left Mr. Hanff shaking his head in disgust. He said,

“They’ve been asked to suspend the privacy policy changes several times, and Google keeps telling the regulators where to go. They’ve basically stuck two fingers up. Hopefully my case will open an avenue for other consumers to take similar action”

Pay up, Google! You neglected to respect your users; they will now neglect to do business with you. Good riddance!

To read my other post regarding the letter from the Attorneys General – click here

UPDATE

A commenter asked me to provide more details on this story, specifically the process Mr. Hanff took to file his lawsuit:

According to an interview between Mr. Hanff and The Inquirer, his choice to file his lawsuit at a small claims court was very deliberate. He said that small claims courts are much easier to get through, require minimal money to file a complaint, and you don’t need a lawyer to represent you. He encourages other Android owners to file a lawsuit with a small claims court for those reasons because he knows that many people don’t have the money and time to go through an extensive lawsuit – whereas, at a small claims court, there is little to lose and much to gain. Mr. Hanff said,

“The cost of filing in Small Claims Court is very low and the chance of having costs awarded against you should you lose are very slim, so from a risk mitigation perspective it is the safest route for consumers to take. The last thing I wanted to do was put people at risk of huge costs so I would advise the public to use the small claims route if they want to take action against Google on this issue.

I expect Google will offer a defense. I certainly don’t have any plans to accept an out of court settlement from Google unless that settlement can be made public and includes an admission from Google that the changes are prejudicial to privacy. So yes, I am expecting a fight but it is a fight I am more than prepared to undertake.”  

For more information:

The Telegraph, “Google sued for Android refund over privacy shakeup” – click here

The Telegraph, “Google Android users ‘must accept new privacy policy'” – click here

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