Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Transparency, Google and Privacy

A group called One World Trust sent a survey to Google. A lot of people ask us to fill out surveys. I’m not sure who at Google they sent it to. In fairness, until yesterday, I had never heard of One World Trust, and it’s possible that whoever received it hadn’t either. Since we didn’t respond to their request for a survey, though, Google was ranked bottom in terms of transparency, in particular with regards to privacy. And Robert Lloyd, the report’s lead author, went so far as to say Google “did not co-operate (with the report) and on some policy issues, such as transparency towards customers, they have no publicly available information at all.” All this according to the FT

But filling out surveys is not how a company proves transparency to its customers. It does so by making information public. We’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to publish information for our users about our privacy practices. In many respects, I feel we lead the industry. Here are just a few examples:

We were the first search company to start anonymising our search records (a move the rest of the industry soon followed), and we published our exchange of letters with the EU privacy regulators, explaining these issues in great depth.

We engineer transparency into our technologies like Web History, which allow users to see and control their own personal search history.

We’ve also gone to extraordinary lengths to explain our privacy practices to users in the clearest ways we can devise.
Our privacy policies:
Our privacy channel on YouTube, with consumer-focused videos explaining basic privacy concepts: Google blogs on privacy:
Our Google public policy blogs on privacy:

With each of these efforts, we were the first, and often the only, search engine to embrace this level of transparency and user control. And lots of people in Google are working on even more tools, videos and content to help our users understand our privacy practices and to make informed decisions about how to use them. Check back to these sites regularly to see more.

So, really, is it fair for this organization to claim that “on some policy issues, such as transparency towards customers, they have no publicly available information at all”? Perhaps next time, they can follow up their email with a comment on our public policy blog, or a video response on our Google Privacy YouTube channel. Or even send a question to our Privacy Help Site: . Well, so much for the report’s claim that Google doesn’t have a feedback link.


Dennis Howlett said...

I've reviewed Google's policies in the context of the company's overall Ts & Cs. I have to say there is a LOT of inconsistency and confusion across the service lines.

Anonymous said...

I have a few questions/concerns with Google privacy:

1. Why are Google users unable to contact Google representatives directly? Google is a large and profitable company, so I feel it should be able to afford better customer service.

2. I feel that your privacy policy lacks enough information and is very vague on certain issues. I would like EXACT information regarding Google's privacy policy, and how sensitive and personal information is handled (honestly, there really is not enough information about this in your policy), so I can determine whether or not I want to continue using Google's services. At this point I am starting to develop a negative image of Google in regard to information privacy, and I am dissatisfied with the fact that I cannot contact someone directly.

3. Your privacy policy states that Google stores (personal) user information to better its services, but does not go enough in depth about *why* it does so, and this concerns me.

To sum it up, I would simply like to know MORE so I can fully understand how Google deals with user privacy. I want to feel secure about my personal information, and my basic human need for(and right to!) basic security.

For example, not too long ago AOL leaked private user information to the public, and I would like to be assured that this will *not* happen with Google. Why should I, as a Google user, use your services if I do not have ample information about my personal privacy?

-I tried to contact Google directly about this, but was extremely disappointed and frustrated to learn that I could not get a *human* response to my question. I STRONGLY suggest that Google considers being more direct with, and accessible to, those who use its services.

Thank you.