Google, the pot and the kettle
What is it about our love affair with Google that we let them take wholesale liberties with our privacy, and sit back and watch what might be one of the largest data breaches in history go by without so much as a whimper?
After some prodding, Google recently admitted to European Privacy Commissioners that they had “mistakenly” collected the contents of communications between some computer users, as part of their “Street View” activities. Mistakenly. All around the world. For four years.
It goes something like this: specially equipped “Street View” vehicles criss-cross entire nations, taking photographs of our houses and streets, geo-tagging the location with both a GPS and also by “sniffing” for WI FI connections in the area. That way, when a person uses a Google product to locate themselves (like Google Maps), and there are WI FI networks detected nearby, Google can triangulate the device and give you an approximate location. Pretty cool, and nothing really too scary about that, even though there were privacy concerns raised at the time. We trusted Google.
But that isn’t all Google did. They also copied the unencrypted communications of the users of those WI FI services. Things like emails. Now that’s not cool.
In fact, according to the Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, “we regard such collection as a likely breach of the Privacy Act”.
Not the first time Google has been pulled on for flying a little too close to the sun and taking liberties with our privacy.
In February this year Google’s new “Buzz” product was universally condemned because it “auto-followed” (and therefore exposed) the details of the people users most emailed and chatted with. Not something everyone wants aired in public.
But Google said “sorry” in their blog (their main way of communicating mea culpa moments), so we forgave them. It is almost like they were teflon-coated.
We trusted Google.
This time Google has again said “sorry” in their blog, and that they will destroy the data they claim they accidentally collected. No harm done.
But wait, this time it’s different: there are laws against this type of activity.
Laws like the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. Specifically section 7 which states “a person shall not intercept a communication passing over a telecommunications system”, with Section 6 defining “interception” as “recording by any means a communication in its passage over a telecommunications system without the knowledge of the person making the communication”.
So there are criminal (and civil) matters Google may need to address, on top of the Privacy Act concerns expressed by Curtis.
This is the same Google who has been so vocally smacking the Federal government around for what it sees is a great infringement of our privacy: Senator Conroy’s mooted mandatory internet filter. After all, who can trust a government?
Seems to me like a teflon-coated pot calling a kettle black.
Rather than tackling this issue via its blog, perhaps its time for some good old fashioned offline scrutiny: with Google answering back to government investigators, maybe ending up in a court setting.
Much as I for one appreciate Google’s offer to destroy the evidence of their activities, I’d prefer it to be in the hands of the government.
Thank goodness for those Europeans being on the ball, the rest of us just smiled and waved at those cute Google vehicles.
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