[Guest commentary by Kathy Gill]

Trust.

It’s a key factor in any successful relationship, whether that relationship is between two people or a person and an organization.

Although Google hasn’t been battered with privacy-related consumer trust headlines as frequently as Facebook, it has flirted with trust issues since at least 2004. That’s when Dave Winer warned:

Google today is as dangerous as Microsoft, and I wouldn’t bet on their trustworthyness [sic]… The technology industry is built on a foundation of arrogance and disdain for users. Google is too. You may not have seen it yet, but I have.

In 2007, Google told worried consumers that “the unique ID used by the Google Maps system can’t be connected to any ID for GMail.”

Almost two years ago, Google issued a mea culpa, admitting that it “wrongly collected information people have sent over unencrypted wi-fi networks.” And it had done so for three years.

In 2009, Google rejected South Korea’s real names policy when it came to YouTube accounts because of privacy concerns. Then in 2011, it demanded “real names” for its Google+ network.

Google entered into an FTC consent agreement only 11 months ago, “the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information.” The culprit: Google Buzz.

Less than a month ago, Google announced it was consolidating its 60+ privacy policies into one, effective March 1, 2012. Any previous “no, we can’t/don’t” statements? Null and void. The only “opt out” to across-site tracking is to stop using Google products and services.

“There is no way anyone expected this,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

Then last week, we learned that Google engineers systematically and deliberately bypassed Safari’s rejection of third-party tracking cookies, on computers and iPhones, all in the name of making it possible for Google’s PlusOne (+1) system to compete with Facebook. And oh-by-the-way, the work-around allowed Google’s advertising network DoubleClick (with its own checkered privacy past) to set third-party tracking cookies.

This deceit seems to directly contradict the spirit, if not the terms, of  Google’s FTC consent decree:

The settlement requires the company to obtain users’ consent before sharing their information with third parties if Google changes its products or services in a way that results in information sharing that is contrary to any privacy promises made when the user’s information was collected.

Ah. But DoubleClick, while a separate domain, isn’t technically a third party, is it?

However, the deceit clearly contradicts the intent of Google’s customer, who has chosen (explictly or implicitly) to block cookies from third-party sites.

Look. When I set my browsers to reject third-party cookies, I don’t mean “all third party cookies except those in the Google ad network.” I mean all third party cookies.

When I set my browsers to reject third-party cookies, I don’t mean “except when doing so enables Facebook and Google+ integration.” I mean all third party cookies. Period.

When I set my browsers to reject third-party cookies, I don’t mean “but it’s OK to use javascript in place of a cookie.” I mean do not track me. Period.

No means no.

Just like it did in high school.

And just like in high school, the boys at Google (yes, I’m being sexist) seem to have a hard time hearing the word.

I think my worldview is one that is difficult for engineers to grok. Privacy != secrecy. Privacy is me deciding what I share, when I share it and with whom I share it. As Danah Boyd explained at a W3C conference in 2010, privacy is contextual. Privacy is social, it’s a relationship, it’s not just information. And we “feel as though [our] privacy has been violated when [our] expectations are shattered.”

Although I don’t believe (don’t want to believe) that Google engineers deliberately set up a loophole for DoubleClick, I do believe that there are systemic cultural conditions that allowed this to happen.

Until those cultural conditions change, I no longer trust Google to act in a manner that honors its “don’t be evil” policy.

Google has morphed into Microsoft. Dave Winer was right.

A longer version of this post appears on WiredPen.

Kathy E. Gill has almost 20 years experience in digital media—both development and instruction. She currently manages the website for King County Elections and teaches at the University of Washington. She helped create the web design program at Seattle Central Community College and was an advisor to Lake Washington Technical College as it added a bachelor’s program (and subsequently became Lake Washington Institute of Technology). Her consulting work includes writing about U.S. politics for about.com, one of the top 10 visited Web content sites on the Internet, and she has worked with Boeing, AT&T Wireless, SAFECO, and Microsoft on intranet projects.

Comments

  • Gerald Cline

    Google installs pr0grams I do not want so I’m cancelling it.  I didn’t as for it an deleted it once.

  • Guest

    Google is far more dangerous than MS ever was, even at its height more than a decade ago. And I agree that at this point the “do no evil” mantra has been revealed as just so much hot air and trusting them is increasingly risky.

  • Guest

    Google is far more dangerous than MS ever was, even at its height more than a decade ago. And I agree that at this point the “do no evil” mantra has been revealed as just so much hot air and trusting them is increasingly risky.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barry.hurd Barry Hurd

    Good insight Kathy.

    I’m constan

  • OccupyPrivacy

    Startpage (www.startpage.com) seems to be a valid replacement for Google searches.  From their website:  “Startpage, and its sister search engine Ixquick, are the only
    third-party certified search engines in the world that do not record
    your IP address or track your searches”

    What are you using in place of Google?

  • http://WiredPen.com/ kegill

    Thanks, Barry. Share the link? I wrote this before I discovered my iPhone was auto-uploading screen captures to Google+. AFAIK, I did not say it was OK. I don’t remeber being asked, although I do remember a forced login. But I’ve had a migraine this week. Looking for screen captures of the process, which should be opt-in!

  • Chaya Coleena H

    This article touches on the spying of Google. It is nothing new however. Googles whole business model is built on Spying. From day one it sold itself to Madison Avenue as a better way to get to users. People thought that the business model of Google was that of a search engine. How wrong they all have been. Google has used its search engine business as a Trojan Horse to invade users computers and steal their web habits in order to classify them so that they can sell a more targeted advertising to Madison Avenue. Google is not a search engine business but an advertising business. It steals information on you and uses this information to make money. Without the ability to track your behaviour on the Internet Google would fail as an advertising business. Oh. Did I suggest that Google could fail. What an heretic thought. Such a large and powerful company that everyone uses for Internet searching. How could it possibly fail you ask. I ask, do you remember what Google did to Yahoo. While Yahoo survives today it is a mere shadow of itself. No longer and never to be the biggest search engine

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