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, 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.
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.
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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