In response to Bruce Schneier’s recent article on Forbes.com, Google’s Privacy Engineering Lead, Alma Witten, has weighed in. She makes a good point that the search giant, like any business, has to be responsive to what users want in order to be successful. If the users want privacy controls, she implies, then Google must give that serious weight in the calculus they use to arrive at bottom line success.
She even substantiates this idea by pointing out the various projects and services that specifically furnish control to users–Google Dashboard, Ad Preferences Manager, and the Data Liberation Front. Going above and beyond, she admits Google must take its lumps for the privacy gaffes committed during Buzz’s notorious launch.
I’ll conceded that Witten is sincere. My understanding is that internally Google works much like a coalition of loosely aligned, mostly autonomous project groups. Hearing an endorsement of the idea of user control around privacy from an engineer is hardly surprising. Like many internal lines, such as the company’s stance towards open source, there are intermediaries that have to be taken into account, mostly program managers and executives. There is still plenty of opportunity there for Witten’s reassuring words to get a little lost in the translation on its way into the business plan.