The senior execs and DC lobbying team at Google really have a major problem addressing one of the company’s gravest problems–its lack of leadership protecting consumer/citizen privacy. While Google claims to reporters and others it’s been proactively strengthening its privacy policies, most of the changes have come as a result of pressure from policymakers and privacy advocates.
This week, Google released a booklet which “spelled out…2009 policy priorities” for the new Administration and Congress, including several Internet related issues. The booklet’s release coincided with a speech Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. Missing from the booklet’s agenda was any discussion of privacy or the role and structure of online advertising (You would never know, for example, that Google was just forced by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division to drop its proposed deal with leading rival Yahoo!).
Google should be playing a leadership role supporting the enactment of serious privacy rights for the public–including “opt-in,” real transparency, user control, limits on retention, etc. If Google believes its golden digital goose will be baked once consumers better understand and control how they are being profiled and targeted, they should examine how it defines corporate social responsibility. But Google’s current approach—we can’t admit we are collecting your data for interactive marketing and cannot even say the word privacy in public-– will ultimately have consequences for Google’s future–including its share price.