Should Google Link to Its Privacy Policy From Its Homepage?

by on June 3, 2008 · 15 comments

No.

Google stands accused of violating California law by failing to link to its privacy policy prominently enough. Linking to privacy policies on home pages was an experiment that failed long ago. People don’t read them. People who are interested in reading them can find them so long as they’re placed sensibly on the Web site.

What a strange kabuki dance, to fret about whether Google links to its privacy policy on its home page. Google does better than most – which is, in truth, only kinda good – at informing the public about its privacy practices and the privacy consequences of its products.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Update: I’ve written a little bit more on this at Cato@Liberty.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The fact is that Google has broken the law, and for that they need to be punished, all the better to tarnish their phony “good guy” image.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The fact is that Google has broken the law, and for that they need to be punished, all the better to tarnish their phony “good guy” image.

  • DB

    I tend to agree with Richard here. Many ad-supported online services appear to be “free” to consumers, even though this isn’t the case. Users pay for these services with their privacy. By not disclosing its privacy policy up front, Google is failing to reveal the actual price of its service until after I’ve already made a purchase (or in this case executed a search).

    It is true that a competitive market allows me to choose between several search engines, but Google makes the false and deceptive claim that their service is free (by not posting its privacy policy up front), while all of its competitors disclose their actual prices. How can I possibly shop around for the best service if Google doesn’t charge me until after I’ve consumed the product?

  • Jim Harper

    Both your comments are interesting.

    My premise is that the goal of privacy policies was to put consumers in a better position to protect privacy.

    Richard sees the California law as a cudgel for tarnishing the reputation of a company he doesn’t like. It’s not incoherent, but I don’t think it’s what the law was for or an aid to privacy.

    DB, you’re closer to the point, but I think you miss the lesson we’ve learned: People don’t read privacy policies. Accordingly, putting the policy on the homepage doesn’t affect the consumer decision-making process. It just clutters the homepage, which Google rightly prides itself on keeping clean. (I agree that the privacy policy should be easy to find for those who care, and it is.)

    There’s an interesting broader point raised by your comment, DB, about notice generally. Every transaction, online or off, has privacy costs (to a greater or lesser extent, depending heavily on whether the medium of exchange is digital or not). Telling people about this in a specific notice is superfluous for all but the most ignorant.

    I suspect that the Richard’s comment reveals the point of this little dust-up: to take Google down a notch, not to promote consumer privacy.

  • DB

    I tend to agree with Richard here. Many ad-supported online services appear to be “free” to consumers, even though this isn’t the case. Users pay for these services with their privacy. By not disclosing its privacy policy up front, Google is failing to reveal the actual price of its service until after I’ve already made a purchase (or in this case executed a search).

    It is true that a competitive market allows me to choose between several search engines, but Google makes the false and deceptive claim that their service is free (by not posting its privacy policy up front), while all of its competitors disclose their actual prices. How can I possibly shop around for the best service if Google doesn’t charge me until after I’ve consumed the product?

  • Jim Harper

    Both your comments are interesting.

    My premise is that the goal of privacy policies was to put consumers in a better position to protect privacy.

    Richard sees the California law as a cudgel for tarnishing the reputation of a company he doesn’t like. It’s not incoherent, but I don’t think it’s what the law was for or an aid to privacy.

    DB, you’re closer to the point, but I think you miss the lesson we’ve learned: People don’t read privacy policies. Accordingly, putting the policy on the homepage doesn’t affect the consumer decision-making process. It just clutters the homepage, which Google rightly prides itself on keeping clean. (I agree that the privacy policy should be easy to find for those who care, and it is.)

    There’s an interesting broader point raised by your comment, DB, about notice generally. Every transaction, online or off, has privacy costs (to a greater or lesser extent, depending heavily on whether the medium of exchange is digital or not). Telling people about this in a specific notice is superfluous for all but the most ignorant.

    I suspect that the Richard’s comment reveals the point of this little dust-up: to take Google down a notch, not to promote consumer privacy.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Privacy doesn’t exist on-line in any meaningful sense, so protecting it is pretty much a non-starter. But as DB says, personal information is currency, and knowing what the harvester is going to do with it is as important as knowing how big our phone bill is going to be.

    I don’t consider tarnishing Google’s phony image to be the primary benefit of enforcing the law, it’s just an amusing side-effect.

    There’s no dispute that Google has broken the law, is there? Just whether it should be enforced against the Cleanest Site on the Web?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Privacy doesn’t exist on-line in any meaningful sense, so protecting it is pretty much a non-starter. But as DB says, personal information is currency, and knowing what the harvester is going to do with it is as important as knowing how big our phone bill is going to be.

    I don’t consider tarnishing Google’s phony image to be the primary benefit of enforcing the law, it’s just an amusing side-effect.

    There’s no dispute that Google has broken the law, is there? Just whether it should be enforced against the Cleanest Site on the Web?

  • http://www.cato.org/people/jim-harper/ Jim Harper

    Having read the law, I think it’s easy to dispute whether or not Google violated it. See my Cato@Liberty post. Happily, the California law is not defined by consensus among Google’s opponents the way federal antitrust law is . . . hah!

  • http://www.cato.org/people/jim-harper/ Jim Harper

    Having read the law, I think it’s easy to dispute whether or not Google violated it. See my Cato@Liberty post. Happily, the California law is not defined by consensus among Google’s opponents the way federal antitrust law is . . . hah!

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