“J. Edgar Google”

by on July 7, 2008 · 18 comments

Too funny. Anti-Google gadfly Scott Cleland has coined a hilarious new name for the company to highlight his privacy concerns with the search giant and its business practices. My chief concern now is . . . Which executive do we suspect of being a cross-dresser?

Cleland has a point. Foremost, I think, the judge that ordered Google to disclose a great mass of YouTube viewer information is being cavalier with the legitimate privacy concerns in a data-dump that big. I don’t share Berin’s confidence that a protective order will control access to, and uses of, this information. Data is so, so volatile.

But the judge is in a position to rule like this because Google collects and keeps so much information.

I have complimented Google on good practices in the past, but the modesty of the steps it has taken to protect user privacy is showing. At the time, their niggardly protective efforts forced them to try importing shades of gray into a circumstance that is black or white: They said their logs were “much more anonymous” than before, rather than flatly anonymous.

Well, they’re ‘not very anonymous’ if they have IP addresses and usernames in them, are they. But Google also boxed itself into a corner by arguing elsewhere that IP addresses aren’t really personally identifiable information.

“We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.” (‘Sure, we love the heavy regulatory regime you’ve got going because we love privacy, but let’s not include IP addresses, mkay?’)

The modesty of its protective steps, and the company’s go-along get-along approach to regulators in Europe (+ would-be Europeans here in the States), are coming home to roost. Instead of taking great strides to protect privacy and telling regulators to just back off, Google has taken small steps and tripped over its shoelaces.

‘J. Edgar Google’ has created the circumstances in which a judge can require them to hand over lots of personally identifiable user data. It’s a situation in which few people believe they will be protected.

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