Consumer Watchdog Tells Google to Prove New Privacy Commitment

Oct 22, 2010, 17:35 ET from Consumer Watchdog

Changing Wi-Spy Story Makes it Difficult to Believe Measures are Serious

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Oct. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog welcomed three new steps Google said it is implementing to protect consumers' privacy in response to the Wi-Spying scandal, but challenged the Internet giant to prove the measures are more than a public relations ploy.

The public interest group said it is difficult to take the Internet giant's words at face value when its story about how Street View cars gathered data from wireless networks keeps changing.

"First they said they didn't gather data; then they said they did, but it was only fragments; and today they finally admit entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords," said John M. Simpson, director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group's Inside Google Project. "Maybe some Google executives are beginning to get it: privacy matters. The reality, though, is that the company's entire culture needs to change."

One step Google announced was a the appointment of Alma Whitten as director of privacy across both engineering and product management. Consumer Watchdog said that because computer engineers who emphasize gathering as much data as possible continue to drive Google's corporate culture, it is difficult to believe the new policies will be effective.

"When you have CEO Eric Schmidt telling us that the company's policy on privacy is to 'go up to the creepy line,' I think Alma Whitten faces a real challenge. I do wish her well and hope she has a real impact," said Simpson. "It's in Google's court to prove they mean it."

In a post on The Official Google Blog Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research acknowledged for the first time that in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords. He announced three steps aimed at protecting privacy:

-- Google appointed Alma Whitten director of privacy across both engineering and product management.

-- Google is improving training for engineers and other important groups (such as product management and legal) with a particular focus on the responsible collection, use and handling of data. In December, all employees will be required to undertake a new information security awareness program, which will include clear guidance on both security and privacy.

-- Google is adding a new process to its review system requiring every engineering project leader to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers' online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet's leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Consumer Watchdog's website is Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: <>.

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog