Consumer Watchdog Warns Against Google Privacy Threat

By November 03, 2008

Doubts against the Internet giant’s privacy problems have once again been raised, this time by the Santa Monica-based consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. “[W]ith Chrome’s release, Google is now also on the inside sending information out. With this Chrome software inside individuals’ computers, Google’s role as sender and receiver of data has become uniquely powerful and threatening to the privacy of users," says the group.

Consumer Watchdog has serious concerns about privacy with Google Autosuggest. The group is targeting the transmission of user keystrokes to Google as users enter search terms.  Chrome's incognito mode, which masks search history, is opt in and must be restarted each time the browser is launched.  Unprotected searching leads to user information being stored by Google.

"The company is literally having this unnoticed conversation with itself about you and your information," said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court in a November 2 AP article.

Chrome product manager Brian Radowski says that Google logs only 2 percent of the IP addresses of search requests, and makes this information anonymous within 24 hours, but Consumer Watchdog thinks this is still too much.

"It's about having a monopoly over our personal information, which, if it falls into the wrong hands, could be used in a very dangerous way against us," Court said.

Last week, Google announced it was modifying privacy options for its collaboration tool JotSpot after it was revealed that user data could be accessed publicly. Google also has gotten a lot of complaints about other applications, especially Google Earth.

One of the reasons I rarely use Google's gmail is that I don’t like seeing Google Ads advertising keywords from my email. Sure, it’s an automated process, and I’ll admit I’m not overly concerned with privacy issues (of course, this might be different if I used the service more often). Mainly, I think it’s tacky, and while the lines between personal and public are have been blurred further than ever before, there should be clearly-drawn boundaries between the two.

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