The World Thinks Google’s Big Brother

    June 11, 2007

There’s a lot of buzzing in the blogosphere right now (you can read Jordan’s coverage here), as it appears Google is under fire again for its privacy policies. AP reports that London-based Privacy International has issued a study of 23 internet companies, with Google coming out dead-last. In fact no other company studied, received the same low rating.

None of the 22 other surveyed companies — a group that included Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AOL — sunk to that level, according to Privacy International.

While a number of other Internet companies have troubling policies, none comes as close to Google to “achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy,” Privacy International said in an explanation of its findings.

I’ve not read the report, but a few have and they’re responding. Danny Sullivan takes a fine-tooth comb to the study and Google’s own Matt Cutts feels slighted by the report.

Danny’s not too impressed with the quality of the report and sums it up this way…

Frankly, about the only thing saving Privacy International from many more companies or services being upset over this report is that they singled out Google as the worse. That’s almost guaranteed to make players like Microsoft and Yahoo shut their mouths and point at this silently as vindication they aren’t so bad.

Even Robert Scoble weighs in and slams Google’s PR efforts…

That said, Google’s PR is really stinky. Google isn’t paying attention to what normal people think of it anymore and it’s getting a bad reputation because of that. I heard it slammed over and over again for street-level views on Google Maps and no one from Google responded in most of the mainstream talk shows I heard talking about it. They should have a full-court “feel good” initiative where they have normal everyday citizens come in and meet the engineers, and look at the privacy issues.

Google’s PR is focused on the wrong things and isn’t warm and fuzzy and with big companies who are taking over our online data they need to have a warm and fuzzy feel.

And that’s where I chime in on this topic. You can do all of the analysis you want of the study, pick as many holes in it as you can, bring out your supporters to counter the study’s findings, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. People are starting to get a little freaked out by Google’s pervasiveness and are really starting to get concerned about what it knows. Google needs to fight the perception that it is becoming “big brother”, not the reality, before the perception becomes the reality.

Google needs to take a dramatic step in allaying our fears that it’s taking our data and using it for evil. It needs to move quickly, otherwise it won’t be able to reverse the tide. Google’s gotten very far, simply by exploiting its great reputation, that reputation is now at risk, and it needs to realize that it is fast becoming arrogant in its belief that it can do whatever it wants.