Last month, privacy and data protection officials from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom wrote an open letter to Google voicing their concerns about Google Buzz. Of course, this is nothing new, since Buzz has prompted privacy concerns since the day it rolled out.
Let’s rehash this conversation here. First, the ten countries say:
In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private, one-to-one web-based e-mail service, and converted it into a social networking service, raising concern among users that their personal information was being disclosed. Google automatically assigned users a network of “followers” from among people with whom they corresponded most often on Gmail, without adequately informing Gmail users about how this new service would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent decisions. This violated the fundamental principle that individuals should be able to control the use of their personal information.
And then Google says:
At Google, we have 5 privacy principles that describe how we approach privacy and user information across all of our products:
1. Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
2. Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
3. Make the collection of personal information transparent.
4. Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
5. Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.
Hm… So are they now claiming that Buzz “reflected strong privacy standards,” “transparent information collection,” “meaningful choices to protect [users’] privacy” and “responsible” stewardship? Because that was kind of exactly what users and governments alike were complaining about.
Read Write Web hits the nail on the head: Google’s response “reads more like a public relations form-letter on the company’s privacy practices.” Or, essentially: Thank you for your interest in our company! We wish we had the time to respond to every user. Or even the governments that represent nearly 400 million people. Unfortunately, we don’t care.
What do you think? Is Google being flip? Or is there no better way to respond?