Google's Privacy Woes Continue

By | Mar 13, 2012

It seems like a week can't go by without Google being in trouble for their privacy practices. Only a few days after rolling out their controversial new privacy policy, the search engine is once again in hot water both in the United States and in Europe.

The New York Times "Bits" blog announced that New York Senator Charles Schumer has asked both the big G and Apple to meet with him over a serious security loophole on both enterprise's smartphones that gives apps an all-access pass to users' photos. Not only can the apps poach the phone owner's pictures without their knowledge, but in the case of Apple, app developers can also get information on where the photo was taken. While both corporations seemed amenable to chatting with the senator, neither released an official statement on the subject. Schumer has also written a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking them to investigate both corporations.

In Spain, the Data Protection Agency (DPA) started litigation against Google to delete users' index files upon request so they can't be published by third-party websites.

While back on this side of the globe, CNET reports that several Gmail users took to the search engine's public forum to complain about being used as unwitting spokespersons. Apparently, the search engine is co-opting users' names to send e-mails to their non-Gmail-using friends to encourge them to join the party. Google chat, anyone?

From the looks of it, it doesn't seem like the search engine's privacy woes are going to disappear anytime soon. They've been fairly tight-lipped in response to naysayers, and their only appeasement to users upset with their new privacy policy is to debut the "recent" icon. According to CNET, this new convenience feature saves searches across your different devices as long as you've opted into having your Web History enabled. If you look up a night club on your laptop, you can retrieve that exact same search on your tablet or smartphone. For those who opted out of the Web History as a way to avoid the new privacy policy, the "recent" icon seems a pretty half-hearted way to woo them back.

The bigger issue at hand though, is how much control users have over their personal data. Until there is a definite set of rules governing the use of personal information floating around the Web, it's a guarantee that the search engine is going to try to get away with as much as it can. It makes money off targeted search and advertising; co-opting users' personal information is an easy way for the corporation to achieve its financial goals, so why would it stop?

Obama's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is a start, but as Forbes points out, it's not legislation that Google is going to let go through without a fight. There is still a large chance that the bill that ends up being passed could be a watered-down version of the original bill. Or in the big G's perfect world, this whole privacy brouhaha would just blow over.

It's important that until there are rules in place; legislators, consumers, and IT professionals alike should stay abreast of the search engine's actions. If the public loses interest in protecting their own information, there's no way search engines will end up changing their modus operandi, making it all the more likely that your photos, contacts, and interests will be in jeopardy of being used for free advertising.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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