Google’s Privacy Challenge: Face up to your online advertising culture of data collection

Google keeps making new announcements about how it will–finally, this time!–protect consumer privacy.  This latest PR salvo–after the Canadian Privacy Commissioner ruled that Google had “contravened Canadian privacy law when it inappropriately collected personal information from unsecured wireless networks in neighbourhoods across the country”– is designed to help quell EU and US policymakers enacting safeguards that would rein in some of company’s data collection practices.  Yesterday’s announcement illustrates one of Google greatest problems: it can’t admit that its entire business model is based on collecting infinite amounts of information on individual consumers.  Google’s most recent acquisitions–Admob, Invite Media, and Teracent, for example–are designed to generate new data-mining based revenues.   Google is trapped in its own success: it can’t step off the digital data collection treadmill with Facebook and others in hot pursuit.  But consumers and citizens should expect more honesty coming from the “don’t do evil” web giant–not just new promises to better behave.

Google has named Alma Whitten to head a team designed to better address privacy issues.  During her recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Dr. Whitten didn’t provide the kind of critical analysis required on the impact of Google’s online ad business and privacy.  Doing so now–and honestly addressing and redressing the problem–will be a key test.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.