Google Airs Privacy Principles, Sets Itself Up for Ridicule

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-01-28 Print this article Print

You can bet that any time a company such as Google announces anything having to do with its privacy, it's going to cause privacy advocates to bare their teeth.

That is exactly what I imagine will happen once certain privacy watchdogs in Washington, D.C., California and perhaps even in Europe read Google's latest appeal to their clandestine sensibilities Jan. 28, which is apparently International Data Privacy Day.

If only we treated all of these faux holidays the way we do nationally and internationally recognized holidays, we would be golden. But alas...

To celebrate International Data Privacy Day, Google published the five core principles that inform its approach to building Web services and applications.

Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of engineering & research, explained Google's thinking for releasing the guidelines to the public:

We've always operated with these principles in mind. Now, we're just putting them in writing so you have a better understanding of how we think about these issues from a product perspective. Like our design and software guidelines, these privacy principles are designed to guide the decisions we make when we create new technologies.

This is consistent with efforts Google took in 2009 to be more transparent about how it handles user data. For example, the Data Liberation Front is a great effort to make sure users can shuttle their data to and from Google Apps.

Google Dashboard shows Google Apps users where their data is and how much of it exists in YouTube, Google Docs, etc.

Still, privacy critics winked, nodded and asked Google when it would spell out cookie info and Web browser history, or info related to interest-based ads. That's the info Google collects on its users that critics want displayed in Dashboard.

Without further ado, here are the principles, the short and sweet version:

  • Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
  • Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
  • Make the collection of personal information transparent.
  • Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
  • Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.

To get a good handle on what these rules entail in practice, you should really watch this brief video after the jump. Google explains how it uses info from our search history to disambiguate between similar queries and how it provides an off-the-record chat feature for Google Talk, among other measures.

What do you think? Is this a fine, open overture, or just a platitude for privacy buffs? |

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