Various Privacy Commissioners Jointly Write Google about Buzz

Google is increasingly becoming a lightning rod for privacy concerns. This is hardly surprising given how the revenue producing part of their basis requires ever increasing masses of personal information to improve ad targeting and deliver competitive volumes of impressions and high conversion rates.

Despite the search giant’s schizophrenic tap-dancing, providing some concessions to privacy while fighting to keep some controls their way, they continue to draw the interest, even ire, of privacy commissioners, primarily in Canada in Europe.

The latest is a letter to which Michael Geist linked.

However, we are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications. We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws. Moreover, this was not the first time you have failed to take adequate account of privacy considerations when launching new services.

The privacy problems associated with your initial global rollout of Google Buzz on February 9, 2010 were serious and ought to have been readily apparent to you.

The letter was drafted and sent by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, and the heads of the data protection authorities in France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In the rest of the letter, the commissioners continue to admonish Google for what was not an isolated incident with Buzz. They charge Google with repeatedly failing to consider the privacy implications of new products and new features in existing products. They also suggest six principles that should be considered as part of product development, rather that addressed in a slap dash after the fact fix.

To be fair, Google has concede they are working hard on some of these, already. The real battle is going to be gaining traction on some of the others, like “collecting and processing only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to achieve the identified purpose of the product or service”. I am encouraged that the desire by large companies to slurp up ever more personal data is being actively counterbalanced by interest and action like this. I just hope that such pressure yields results.

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