USA TODAY on Android’s Privacy Implications

by on February 12, 2009 · 10 comments

Monday’s USA TODAY ran a long article discussing the tracking capabilities of the T-Mobile G1 smartphone, which is currently the only mobile device available that ships with Google’s Android operating system. I have a different take on the G1 phone, as I explain in a letter to the editor that appeared in today’s USA TODAY:

USA TODAY’s story on the G1 phone, which describes Google’s “surveillance” capabilities, does not do justice to the relationship that online service providers need to maintain with their users (“Feel like someone’s watching you?,” Cover story, Money, Monday).

Google cannot freely use the data it collects from owners of its G1 phone. Far from it, the G1′s privacy policy describes clearly what Google can and cannot do with user information. And the policy is legally binding. Google has everything to lose and nothing to gain from a data breach.

A single privacy flub can send consumers fleeing from not only the G1 but also from Google’s other online services. This is why Google maintains robust privacy safeguards.

Google’s innovations in search, mail and other applications have helped make the Web a far more accessible and useful resource. Online users need to be careful with their information, but hyping privacy fears is unwarranted.

To be sure, using the G1 phone is not without risks, and some especially risk-averse individuals might want to steer clear of Android entirely. But when you consider the privacy risks many of us live with every day, Android’s privacy risks don’t seem all that great. In fact, the ubiquitous personal computer is probably the most vulnerable device owned by the average person–Internet architect Vint Cerf  has estimated that up to 1 in 4 PCs worldwide is infected with malware. The G1 may be a marketer’s goldmine, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also offer strong privacy assurances.

  • http://tieguy.org/ luis

    HAhahhahaha. 'privacy policy describes clearly'. hahahhahahahahahha. You do know how laughable that is, right?. Like any good privacy policy, the G1 privacy policy commits Google to absolutely zero measurable restraints.

    Blank check #1: “Using some applications or features may send information to Google that is stored with your Google Account. ” That language is completely unrestricted; basically this sentence means 'as soon as you use any of our software, we can choose to upload any data we want and tie it to your account.'

    Blank check #2: “We use your information to process your requests and deliver Google services to you, provide customer service functions, and provide you with a better user experience.” Magic words here are 'better user experience'- anything we deem to be good for you, we get to use this for, including things you probably would find vaguely creepy if we told you about them.

    Blank check #3: “We may share your information with third parties we use to perform some functions, such as billing related tasks. These third parties will be required to treat your information in accordance with the applicable Google privacy policies.” Of course, we already know that the applicable Google policies are blank checks- which the third parties inherit as well.

    Look, this is hardly unique to Google- law school electronic commerce textbooks quite literally say 'you should never write a privacy policy that actually binds your client in any way.' But to pretend that Google is somehow bound by this policy indicates either mind-boggling naivete, mind-boggling ignorance, or willful deception.

    That said, I think you can make a plausible argument (1) that Google has a pretty good ethic about this stuff and (2) that market forces may have at least some regulatory value here. But c'mon, don't insult anyone's intelligence by arguing that the privacy policy means a damn thing.

  • http://tieguy.org/ luis

    HAhahhahaha. 'privacy policy describes clearly'. hahahhahahahahahha. You do know how laughable that is, right?. Like any good privacy policy, the G1 privacy policy commits Google to absolutely zero measurable restraints.

    Blank check #1: “Using some applications or features may send information to Google that is stored with your Google Account. ” That language is completely unrestricted; basically this sentence means 'as soon as you use any of our software, we can choose to upload any data we want and tie it to your account.'

    Blank check #2: “We use your information to process your requests and deliver Google services to you, provide customer service functions, and provide you with a better user experience.” Magic words here are 'better user experience'- anything we deem to be good for you, we get to use this for, including things you probably would find vaguely creepy if we told you about them.

    Blank check #3: “We may share your information with third parties we use to perform some functions, such as billing related tasks. These third parties will be required to treat your information in accordance with the applicable Google privacy policies.” Of course, we already know that the applicable Google policies are blank checks- which the third parties inherit as well.

    Look, this is hardly unique to Google- law school electronic commerce textbooks quite literally say 'you should never write a privacy policy that actually binds your client in any way.' But to pretend that Google is somehow bound by this policy indicates either mind-boggling naivete, mind-boggling ignorance, or willful deception.

    That said, I think you can make a plausible argument (1) that Google has a pretty good ethic about this stuff and (2) that market forces may have at least some regulatory value here. But c'mon, don't insult anyone's intelligence by arguing that the privacy policy means a damn thing.

  • LM1987

    A bit stupid to think that the privacy policy proctects you..thank God there are still people who are not that stupid..

    And the malware argument is also stupid! Should you give up privacy to be protected against malware? I think not but…frightened Americans do everything..

  • LM1987

    A bit stupid to think that the privacy policy proctects you..thank God there are still people who are not that stupid..

    And the malware argument is also stupid! Should you give up privacy to be protected against malware? I think not but…frightened Americans do everything..

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