Sunday, December 21, 2008

Consumer Group Calls on Google to Offer Zero Personal Data Retention Policy; Seeks Meeting With Chairman Eric Schmidt About Privacy Concerns

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Google should offer users of its search engine the ability to leave no personal data on the Internet giant's servers, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said today and asked for a meeting with Google's chairman to discuss the group's privacy concerns.

In a letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and Policy Advocate John M. Simpson noted that the search engine Ask.Com offers the ability for users' personal data to be removed almost immediately from its servers with its AskEraser service. "We call on you to offer Google's users such a clearly identifiable 'opt out' function on its search engine that is essentially a zero personal data retention policy."

During a question and answer period at a New America Foundation speech in Washington, DC, Schmidt told Simpson that he was "sympathetic" to the group's privacy concerns and told him to arrange a meeting "off line" rather than in front of 200 people. See a video of that exchange here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKybBlEjSyk&eurl

The letter to Google came after the announcement this week by its rival Yahoo! that it will anonymize personal data it retains after only 90 days. Google currently keeps the data for nine months. European privacy officials have suggested a six-month standard, a limit that Microsoft said it would adopt if all search engine companies adopt the standard.

"This is really about choice," said Simpson. "People should have the right to choose what they do with their personal data and if they provide it all."

Consumer Watchdog's letter requests a meeting with Schmidt to discuss the consumer group's privacy concerns and follows an Oct. 13 letter to Google. Read that letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/LtrGoogle10-13-08.pdf. Read Google's Nov. 26 response here:

http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/Googleresponse112608.pdf. Read today's letter to Schmidt here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/LtrGoogle121908.pdf.

"Google, because of its dominance on the Internet, stands alone as the entity most able to set and maintain a gold standard for protecting privacy," the letter said. "Conversely, it could also be the company that sounds the death knell for privacy protections on the Internet."

To guarantee privacy, Consumer Watchdog said, users need: 1) control over their private data; 2) transparency about how their data is gathered and used; and 3) the right to give informed consent through "opt in" functions, rather than having to sift through pages in order to even locate the "opt out" function, or in its absence, a clearly identifiable and accessible "opt out."

View videos that demonstrate how users are in an unnoticed conversation with Google when they use its services at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/google.

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