July 14, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Google balances privacy, reach

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need it to process the data on Google's behalf.

Concern about Google's data retention practices has become more acute since the company went public last August. The company's motto of doing no evil remains, but some people question Google's ability to adequately balance the heavy burden of safeguarding consumer privacy rights with the pull toward intermingling and mining data for ever more lucrative targeted advertising.

"Although Google is held in high esteem by the public as a good corporate citizen, past performance is no guarantee of future behavior, especially following Google's IPO when the company will have a legal duty to maximize shareholder wealth," Hoofnagle said in testimony in March before the California Senate Judiciary Committee on the privacy risks of e-mail scanning.

Google can't make promises about what it will or won't do with the data in the future or state explicitly how it uses the information, but executives there do believe their privacy policy provides adequate assurances to calm consumers' fears.

"It's very hard for many consumers to get it, because the Google brand name has so much trust."
--Chris Hoofnagle, director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Google's privacy policy says it may share information submitted under a Google account service "among all of our services in order to provide you with a seamless experience and to improve the quality of our services." Google representatives wouldn't elaborate on what that means.

Yahoo's privacy policy, by comparison, says it "may combine information about you that we have with information we obtain from business partners or other companies" and that it uses the data to customize the advertising and content that users see, contact users, conduct research and improve services.

Google, like virtually all companies, also complies with legal orders such as search warrants and subpoenas.

"The prospect of unlimited data retention creates a honey pot for law enforcement," Hoofnagle said in his testimony. In addition, e-mail stored for longer than 180 days has less protection from law enforcement than e-mail deleted before then, he said.

Google knows people are worried
Google is very much concerned with protecting the privacy of its users, Wong said. "We take privacy very seriously from the design of the products through launch and beyond," including by building in privacy-protection options in new products, she said. Google does not have a privacy officer, but it does have Wong and a team of lawyers who work with her to address privacy issues, among other matters.

Google executives would not say exactly how the company protects the data or whether it encrypts it. The privacy policy states that Google takes "appropriate security measures to protect against unauthorized access to or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of data" and restricts access to personally identifying information to employees "who need to know that information in order to operate, develop or improve our services."

Even if Google is well-intentioned, the data could eventually end up being misused, Bankston fears.

"I think the mantra of not being evil is not disingenuous, but it is a hard credo to stick to when you're a public corporation with stockholders to please and economic incentives driving you to collect as much information as possible," Bankston said. "I'm not saying it's evil to collect this information; I'm saying it's dangerous for them to collect this."

The largest outcry against Google so far has been in response to Gmail. Launched in April 2004, Gmail now offers a whopping two gigabytes of storage for free and scans the content of messages to serve up context-related ads.

Gmail users can delete messages, but the process isn't intuitive. Deletion takes multiple steps to accomplish and it takes an undetermined period of time to delete the messages from all the Google servers that may have a copy of it, Wong said.

Another complaint is that Google uses cookies--tiny tracking tags used by most Web sites to link a specific user with his or her activities--that expire in 2038. "Although Google said that it does not cross-reference the cookies, nothing is stopping them from doing so at any time," Hoofnagle said in his testimony. However, users can delete cookies or disable them.

People can use Google search without a cookie. If a cookie is used and is not deleted by the user, the searches may then be linked to the cookie, Wong said. However, Google can not correlate searches to a specific user unless that person voluntarily provides personally

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37 comments

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Google mode presents new business model
While some people scream privacy, some of us prefer 'publicy'. We pay our bills on time, we respect others, we don't break laws. If Google collects data with a similar code of ethics, they could perform 'subsciption screening' so we receive notice of things of interest from >reputable< companies.
Posted by gthurman (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Somebody's Watching Me
This article reminds me of an eighties song by Rockwell...

"I always feel that somebody's watchin' me
Is it just a dream?"

.... No, it's an Internet Search Engine.

"I always feel like somebody's watching me
I can't enjoy my tea!"
Posted by Collants (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Poor journalism
CNET blew it big time with this story, in two ways.

First, it equated information accessible via the Internet with information published in an article that will be read by millions. There is an important distinction between pointing out the accessibility of information, and publishing that information. The Google search engine is just a tool to find information which is already out there. This tool can be used for good or for evil. CNET just demonstrated the latter. It was grossly irresponsible journalism, and should be condemned by journalists everywhere. Didn't you learn anything from Maureen O'Gara's mistake?

Secondly, the whole point of the article was information that Google may be collecting and storing in their private inaccessible archives. While this may be an interesting topic, it is orthogonal to the public accessibility today of information on the Internet, which Google's search engines may make easier to find. The author seems to be confusing and mingling the two separate issues.
Posted by spongeman57 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sorry but you miss the point
Once the information is accessible to Google it is PUBLIC INFORMATION. The reporter certainly did nothing wrong in publishing information about Schmidt. There isn't anything preventing anyone in the world from doing precisely what she's done.

Your skin seems as thin as Schmidt's.
Posted by richards1052 (5 comments )
Link Flag
Here Here
I found it hard to read the whole article because i knew what the writer was getting at, he/she was trying to have a swing at google, it was quite obvious and i still don't understand why.

They have Un-personal identifiable information, they have words that we have searched for, and i might elaborate on words... millions of words, that would take all of Google's staff months just to see what we have searched for let alone find out what our 'beliefs, religion' and etc.

i find this article quite upsetting coming from Cnet as Cnet has always published top notch reporting up until this piece of reporting, using really lame lines to make it seem google are trying to avoid answering questions, such as when they just wrote the writer a answer for everything that was asked, and the writer had the nerve to write underneath that 'google wouldn't elaborate'

personally, i could quite easily write just as good smear campaign on any body. Hmm such as how Paul's Milk knows how much milk i drink and therefore can personally identify my, which is not as far fetched as this reporter is getting at.

Overall, quite pathetic reporting and seems everyone else agrees and i severely hope that this writers credentials are being re-looked, as well with her/his job

Patriot.Aus ***
Posted by Patriot (7 comments )
Link Flag
This is not poor journalism. Can you not see the privacy implications of every word you have ever searched using google being stored on their servers for an indefinite amount of time? not to mention that if you use gmail, the amount of personal information that could be obtained from that. The fact is that google has expanded and is doing everything. Aim is now available through gmail and the conversations are saved. It is impossible to leave your personal life or personal information out of your email and Instant messaging conversations. some of the information, such as medical information should not be accessible to anyone but yourself. But when the government wants some of this information, the legal route is just too much red tape for them. They will go (and have gone) to these services that collect way too much information about a person such as google, yahoo, etc. luckily, so far google has fought this but as we all know, everyone has a price, and the value of this information is growing steadily as more people put their information out there on google and as google continues to build more buildings to house the ridiculous amount of data it is storing. How long before google offers Mark zuckerberg an offer that he can't refuse? I don't have anything against google, but this is going in the direction of 1984. (not that it hasn't already happened with our government, it is just the fact that google is so brazen about this as if its ok)
Posted by e1462 (2 comments )
Link Flag
This is not poor journalism. Can you not see the privacy implications of every word you have ever searched using google being stored on their servers for an indefinite amount of time? not to mention that if you use gmail, the amount of personal information that could be obtained from that. The fact is that google has expanded and is doing everything. Aim is now available through gmail and the conversations are saved. It is impossible to leave your personal life or personal information out of your email and Instant messaging conversations. some of the information, such as medical information should not be accessible to anyone but yourself. But when the government wants some of this information, the legal route is just too much red tape for them. They will go (and have gone) to these services that collect way too much information about a person such as google, yahoo, etc. luckily, so far google has fought this but as we all know, everyone has a price, and the value of this information is growing steadily as more people put their information out there on google and as google continues to build more buildings to house the ridiculous amount of data it is storing. How long before google offers Mark zuckerberg an offer that he can't refuse? I don't have anything against google, but this is going in the direction of 1984. (not that it hasn't already happened with our government, it is just the fact that google is so brazen about this as if its ok)
Posted by e1462 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Is Google Evil?
See the meme graph results.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.realmeme.com/Main/savinggoogle/index.jsp" target="_newWindow">http://www.realmeme.com/Main/savinggoogle/index.jsp</a>
Posted by Broward Horne (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
interesting
People hate google when its founders get thin-skinned, grossly rich, etc., but the googlies restore their "cool" with products like Gmail. The googlies need to ration themselves to a limited number of uncool activities (like getting richer) and continue launching cool product extensions. And restoring diplomatic relations with C-net with a fulsome apology for being thin-skinned would be a really cool thing to do.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Eric Schmidt has might thin skin
I just don't get Google's churlish response to this article. It's a perfectly &#38; responsible article. All the information about Schmidt was publicly available using his own company's technology. These people really have to get a life. It's not like the reporter went dumpster diving or dredged up former lovers or wives who wanted to tell all about him.

If Schmidt wants to be as prickly and thin-skinned as Bill Gates, then he'll have to pay the price in earning the public's disdain for his arrogance.
Posted by richards1052 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google's Response is Absurd
The report only used fairly innocuous information, she could have revealed much more personal information such as whom the Schmidt's dined with at the White House or what night Bill Cinton was at their house or to be serious, much more revealing information on his family which could possibly compromise their safety. If Eric really cares so passionately about this , Google should allow web sites to "opt out" of Google to protect the privacy of the people who may be on their sites.
Posted by mbaprof (1 comment )
Link Flag
Ahh, but probing for personal factoids via Google is exactly like dumpster diving - daring and delicious (uh, no not de.licio.us). And the way Google massively and indiscriminately collects odds and ends could well be likened to a data or content garbage dump. In the future, we will mine our garbage dumps for recyclable materials the same way we mine Google for recyclable data.
Posted by outtanames999 (11 comments )
Link Flag
If there's nothing wrong with it he would have provided solid answers. Since those are not available he resorts to banning Cnet from Google press conferences. Nice.... I feel so much more confident in the cloud. The direction this is going is like a bad scifi movie.
Posted by russkeller (163 comments )
Link Flag
Eric Schmidt
It was suprising that, inorder to prove what an effective information company Google was- that you felt the need to actually publish the personal information on an individual (like the rest of us care). We would have believed your word for it had you just blanked out Eric Schmidt's wife's name, etc., and boasted that you had that information via Googling Schmidt.

It comes off as being paparazzi tabloid.

Madeleine

PS- The fact that Google can withhold information and did not do so on its own CEO, well......
Posted by Madeleine Laury (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Anti-google garbish news...
This is real garbish news... It's not realistic, it's real anti-google fanatism!

For instance, there are lots of tools like google desktop, that provide the ability to find content in documents, emails, etc... This story is trying to "say" to the readers that google save your private information, and that's not true...

This jornalist should apologize for the implicity evil side use of google that he sugest the google tools are about...

For instance, you can use biotech to destroy and biotech to cure, you can use lots of things to good and to evil... nuclear power can be used for good and for evil... but this jornalist only wrote with his evil fanatic anti-google mind!

You should be ashamed... get apologize!

Joao Oliveira
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Um, it's anti-google, but true
I mean. Have you ever run a server? I have. Everything you do on a website is saved into a server log unless the server administrator states otherwise. I'm sure this isn't the case with google, given their popularity, people likely attempt to hack them regularly. Don't go around saying what google doesn't do with their servers when you don't know how server administration works.
Posted by (41 comments )
Link Flag
does anyone think anymore?
Ok, the article, as I understand it, was concerned that google was maybe missing the mark with privacy concerns. So, in response, google has limited the publication of private information by not talking to cnet. so, hasn't google just done something to address privacy concerns? you don't need to worry about all that sensitive data bein exposed on cnet for a while...

On another note, however, cnet made a big fuss about all google's caches and databanks, but found all their info from private web sites as far as I can tell; not by digging through google's trash.

So, in summary, while google's response may seem over the top, in a way it is a very logical response. Also, although the reporter no doubt meant well, I think that she may have been trying to dig up resentment for search companies a little too much.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better explained by Isaac Asimov
Isaac wrote that there would be a device that could show you the past. People didn't just use it to see 1775, they used it to see 10 minutes ago, two days ago, last week, last month, anywhere anyone.
Privace became history, life became a fish bowl.

Thanks Google!
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google may try to protect privacy
But will they succeed? Google has this info, and they can do as they please with it. Most likely, they'll with hold it to address said privacy concerns. What's to say an untrustworthy employee at google won't do something unauthorized with the data though? What's to say a hacker won't break into the info and steal it? Lastly, what's to say that law enforcement officers use the powers of the DMCA, the Patriot Act, or some other equally controvertial law to get this information? Google itself may address privacy concerns strongly. It's individuals that merit worrying about.
Posted by (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
thats not true
most of the 'personal information' that u see in google is collected from public sources. IF u r that important then the information is accurate...most of the time the information is not accurate
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Try this for a strategy
Instead of all complaining about all the information Google, and News.com, for that matter collect. Remember ONE inportant fact. Information is ONLY useful if it is ACCURATE.

Unless it is vital to do otherwise e.g. when applying for a loan, there is is the simple effective strategy that knocks them ALL flat.
Enter totally bum and spurious information whenever possible.

I maybe the CEO of an avionics Company to one Company, a Brain Surgeon to another. I may live in the USA, the UK or Europe or Iraq, depending upon how I feel.

Why do I do this? Simple - they have NO RIGHT to require you to answer their personal and totally irrelevant questions - look at the ones required to join this outfit as an example. Were they necessary? Of course not they are just being nosey and hope that this information will assist them in some way or another mostly for THEIR benefit NOT yours. And yes a lot of this private information does leek out, and I suspect much is sold under the counter as well. Information equates to MONEY.

So play them at their own game whenever possible and finally give them a Yahoo or HotMail typed email address. Thats normally pretty useless to them as well.

Regards

Cheyanne Bodie or is it Fred Flintstone or Cliff Richard? It's my memory playing tricks again - now where are those tablets the doctor gave me?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
One hardly knows where to begin. Of course you can use INACCURATE information. It quite useful to spread lies and distortions. Here's some inaccurate information about August: his name is really April. See what I mean?
Posted by outtanames999 (11 comments )
Link Flag
google adsense/adwords
The article didn't mention the most freaky part of google. With the google adsense program, they can track down every click on the internet. Coupling this information with the complete google database and they know with websites you visit. Even when you don't use any google product at all.

When a webmaster places the 'google ads' on his website, he gives google the permission to collect any kind of information about himself and the visitors of his website. The code they have to put on their website contains a key to session tracking, cookie placement, site statistics, etc. Enough to track everybody on the internet!

It isn't just technical possible, i think they abuse it already. Just read the terms of use from the google adsense program:
"Google may retain and use, subject to the terms of the Google Privacy Policy (located at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/privacy.html," target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/privacy.html,</a> or such other URL as Google may provide from time to time), all information You provide, including but not limited to Site demographics and contact and billing information. You agree that Google may transfer and disclose to third parties personally identifiable information about You for the purpose of approving and enabling Your participation in the Program, including to third parties that reside in jurisdictions with less restrictive data laws than Your own. Google may also provide information in response to valid legal process, such as subpoenas, search warrants and court orders, or to establish or exercise its legal rights or defend against legal claims. Google disclaims all responsibility, and will not be liable to You, however, for any disclosure of that information by any such third party. Google may share non-personally-identifiable information about You, including Site URLs, Site-specific statistics and similar information collected by Google, with advertisers, business partners, sponsors, and other third parties. In addition, You grant Google the right to access, index and cache the Site(s), or any portion thereof, including by automated means including Web spiders or crawlers."
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Adsense Paranoia
I understand why many people would not want their click paths tracked as it can be considered as an invasion of pricacy. I just don't feel that Google will mis use its data. Google AdWords and the subsequent AdSense program is one of their biggest revenue machines and is pretty much the reason Google makes money. The share holders know this and thats what drives the company now. They wouldn't want the apple cart disturbed! For more info on Google Adsense visit www.TheAdSenseFiles.co.uk
Posted by tstolber (1 comment )
Link Flag
Living in an increasingly paranoid world.
In case you don't want to be tracked by a search engine, just don't use them! I personally trust google, and don't mind the data they collect. Anyone who is more suspicious, however, always has the option of not using any of the search engines or alike.

I didn't like the author's tone in the article. Publicly available data and publicizing data are two completely different things. I wish he had been more careful.

I think the issues raised by the article are gaining more attention that they should have been. The last two hours I spent on the issue was a waste of time.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Two hours
What eles did you do other than read the article and wright a responce that took you two hours?
Posted by feedbackuser5 (25 comments )
Link Flag
It's all public information
Thins information could be found in almost an other search engine,
what is the fuss all about?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Jean-Pierre Khoueiri of ConstantClick.com speaks on Google
If the information Google collects is in any way used in an unethical manner, the first complaint will cause a media storm that will likely force the comapny to react to citizens concerns. The only thing Googlers can do is wait and hope Google sticks to it's credo: "Do no evil"!
Posted by www.ConstantClick.com (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google vs. ISP
A similar situation occurs at the ISP level itself.
Posted by jpally (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dr. Eric Schmidt has very many mafia friends, some of whom produce p_rn, even child p_rn from captive women and children, which is how Google got sued for profiteering from deliberatly promoted child p_rnography &#38; why they withheld the identities of child p_rn distributors from police. http://endmafia.com
Posted by keeef091 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google's claim on others' personal works as writings are, personal financial dealings and matters of utilizing own purchased internet use, meaning to be confidential and with others trusting, I don't mean to lame myself by giving what is mine away to goons trusting that slanderous soveriegnty is their real offering.

Bleeding is appropriate. As a real Laws Enforcement priority.
Posted by wgadstar (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Time to bump this article because it was so prescient. Basically, we've known since 2005 that all our information was public. So why is everyone so surprised now?
Posted by Thomas_Badger (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Well, here I am, 8+ years later, wondering how many people who want their lives and the information attached to it kept private, are now using some type of "cloud" service to store files. If you would have a problem with the contents of your cloud information, or for that matter the information you have on your hard drive, being found in text, on paper, in an envelope you left on a bus bench, you really DO have a problem. In that case you will want to keep a supply of notepads and pencils handy, and don't forget to keep your Library Card current. That's how it was done before you owned a computer, and used Google more often in a day than you used a toilet. Remember?

I have an e-mail account with my real name attached to it. I have another one that has an alias. I use it when I'm at a location somewhere else in town. That computer is logged on as "user" and is used by several other people aged eight to eighty, none of whom use their own ID. This might not make me untraceable, but it would certainly make it very difficult. If you're doing something online that you really don't want known to anyone else, and you use your own ID, I'd say that you deserve no sympathy if you suffer for doing so. I'm doing nothing that's illegal, just no ones business but mine. However, if you do use an alias, a certain segment of society will automatically be convinced that you're up to no good.
Posted by jimmy6p (1726 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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