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Print 30 comment(s) - last by Etsp.. on Dec 28 at 10:02 PM

Consumer advocacy group calls for Google to adopt an easy zero day data retention "opt out" provision

One of the most controversial topics online is privacy.  On the one hand there are the advertisers and content providers (and those who do both) like Google.  They say that keeping user statistics is essential to offering more effective advertising, which in turn is key to generating more revenue and being able to provide users with more content.

However, to some users and consumer advocacy groups data retention, particularly by search engine giants like Yahoo and Google, represents a cohesive invasion of privacy that would not have been possible offline.  They say that the potential for abuse of information such as medical searches is too great and that search engines should cut down on their data retention and anonymize data.  Anonymous data would allow for slightly more effective ads than unresearched advertising, but it would be less effective than user targeted ads.  It’s a necessary loss, say some.

One consumer advocacy group is making waves by demanding the internet's largest information gatherer -- Google -- give users an easy way of opting out of data collection entirely.  Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and Policy Advocate John M. Simpson sent a letter to Google, asking that the company allow users a way to block Google from gathering information on users' search queries, IP addresses and cookies. 

In its most recent letter, addressed to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Consumer Watchdog states, "We call on you to offer Google's users such a clearly identifiable "opt out" function on its search engine that is essentially a zero personal data retention policy."

Consumer Watchdog suggests that Google adopt an easy opt out similar to Ask.com's AskEraser.  It seems unlikely that Google would want to model itself after such a business, however.

Google arranged a meeting in October to try to sooth Consumer Watchdog, but since the pair's interactions have been rife with frustration.  Google implies (PDF) that the group does not understand how its Chrome browser's privacy functions and its Suggest feature work.  Consumer Watchdog has written another letter to Google (PDF) accusing it of misdirection and feigned innocence, saying that Google's letter "rebuts issues we have not raised and misstates our position."

The group has called for an after-Christmas meeting with Google.  However, given their past interaction, it seems unlikely that either party will get what they want this Christmas -- in Google's case Consumer Watch shutting up, and in Consumer Watch's case an opt out concession from Google.

Google currently has cut its data retention time to 9 months.  Yahoo recently one-upped Google by cutting its own data retention time to 3 months.

Yahoo, Google, and fellow rival Microsoft will likely face tough questions when the European Commission has a working party meeting in February on the topic of data retention.  The EC has called for, but not legislated a 6 month data retention period.  The governing body of Europe may look to force the search leaders' hands, which may in turn have a ripple effect on business in America and elsewhere.



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A *crazy* idea
By gmyx on 12/24/2008 10:48:28 AM , Rating: 4
If you don't like their policy - here a radical idea: don't go there! Yeash! I use Google's services (expect main) daily, especially their search history feature.




RE: A *crazy* idea
By Motoman on 12/24/2008 11:00:17 AM , Rating: 4
Exactly. It's like people complaining about the iPhone. If you don't like something the product does/doesn't do, then don't use the effing product! How hard is this people?


RE: A *crazy* idea
By tjr508 on 12/24/08, Rating: 0
RE: A *crazy* idea
By omnicronx on 12/24/2008 3:33:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Apparently you haven't read that part of the constitution stating that people have a God-given right to use any service in the exact manner they please.
Uh no? Google is not a government/public service, I don't even think the constitution covers this.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By Etsp on 12/28/2008 10:02:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Apparently you haven't read that part of the constitution stating that people have a God-given right to use any service in the exact manner they please. The no-smoking-in-bars advocates seem to be one step ahead of you on this one.
I believe this was sarcasm folks.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By iFX on 12/24/2008 11:00:58 AM , Rating: 2
I agree 100%. I don't like the way Google does business and I don't use any of their products or services. There are alternative services out there that are just as good and better than what Google offers with the exception of their search engine but even that is subjective.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By gmyx on 12/24/2008 11:13:01 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. I've bothered to get my own domain name and will eventually get my own mail / web server so that I have total control.

I really like some of Google's stuff but other I don't - so I don't use them. They can do what they want with my 'personal' data. I fail to see the big deal - so what if they know I like to frequent tech sites - I get ads about tech that I don't look at.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By GeorgeH on 12/24/2008 2:33:44 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
If you don't like their policy - here a radical idea: don't go there! Yeash!


But how many people actually know (or understand) that policy?

Suppose the FDA stopped classifying beef; people "in the know", such as ranchers, butchers, and the like wouldn't care; if they saw bad beef they just wouldn't buy it. The clueless masses, however, wouldn't know the difference - and would suffer for it.

That analogy is a bit of a stretch, but hopefully you see my point. Google has grown so much in the last few years that its user base contains an enormous percentage of "common" folk, and actions like this are primarily for their benefit.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By tjr508 on 12/24/2008 2:59:35 PM , Rating: 1
The FDA doesn't classify beef...


RE: A *crazy* idea
By GeorgeH on 12/26/2008 5:49:36 AM , Rating: 1
Yep, I meant USDA. Thanks.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By BZDTemp on 12/25/2008 4:48:29 PM , Rating: 2
Talk about bad beef you should do some reading on how the US meat industry works. Next I bet you will either become a vegetarian or start insisting your beef comes from outside the country - just the policy of hormones is shocking!

Not that it's much better anywhere else - each time industry and food becomes part of the same equation quality goes downhill fast.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By GregoryCJohnson on 12/25/2008 11:18:07 PM , Rating: 2
Turing test: If they don't notice, did it happen?

Also, you massively underestimate our importance - Nobody cares except to target ads that we might actually want to see.

There are some other issues, but they are better resolved by shifting social norms. (So nobody _cares_ about your BDSM DVDs)


RE: A *crazy* idea
By omnicronx on 12/24/2008 3:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
Ya really, if you are using their service, I don't see any reason why they should not be able to hold your information indefinately. Otherwise perhaps I should start demanding my cell phone and cable company to cease and disist keeping my records more than 6 months. If you are really concerned with Google having your IP and your search history (which is about all they log), then you should not be using the service in the first place.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By dark matter on 12/24/2008 3:36:19 PM , Rating: 2
Your solution is too simplistic. Life isn't absolute black and white. The service Google provides is great, hence the reason it is the number one search engine.

It could be even better if they offered the facility to opt out of Google storing your search history.

Personally I am not happy about the amount of information Google keeps about me. I would prefer it if they didn't and I am all for the opt out. I am not going to throw my toys out of the pram because of it though and stop using Google. The alternatives are not much better (Yahoo - 90 days).


RE: A *crazy* idea
By omnicronx on 12/24/2008 3:50:18 PM , Rating: 2
What data are you so afraid of them keeping?

Google Rep:
quote:
Like most Web sites, our servers automatically record the page requests made when users visit our sites. These "server logs" typically include your web request, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser.


Google doesnt even need to keep your IP, they could care less. What they want is statistical information based on your location browser type, language, date, and how many times visited.

Of course they will use this information to post certain adds during your searches, but the way I see it, you will be getting adds regardless, why not be adds for things you actually search for?


RE: A *crazy* idea
By Quiescent on 12/25/2008 12:42:45 AM , Rating: 2
I completely agree. I use all three gmail, google chrome, and google search. I use other Google products as well. I DO pirate software and have gone to websites like thepiratebay, isohunt, and demonoid on the google chrome browser. Why am I saying this? Because I'm still here. If Google seriously cared that much about our information, I probably would have my tail-end sued off by companies, but not the RIAA, because I don't pirate the music they have under their belts, lol.


RE: A *crazy* idea
By Oregonian2 on 12/24/2008 4:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If you don't like their policy - here a radical idea: don't go there! Yeash! I use Google's services (expect main) daily, especially their search history feature.


No undesirable features or bugs (or features wanted to be included) should ever be presented to a company either individually or as a group? Just let companies guess what people want?

You're complaining about a group that only wrote Google a letter saying what they want. Good grief. People SHOULD write letters to google to ask what they want.

Google should want people to do this (and act on the requests as they see fit, which of course includes ignoring the request).


RE: A *crazy* idea
By KCjoker on 12/24/2008 7:43:17 PM , Rating: 2
So ironic because even though people can choose not to use Microsoft they still get blasted for similar things yet Google gets a pass.


what about copyrights?
By knowom on 12/24/2008 11:22:58 AM , Rating: 2
It's handy what Google does as far as saving cached versions of websites, but since just about every website going has a copyright on it isn't Google sort of violating copyright laws?




RE: what about copyrights?
By The Will on 12/24/2008 11:46:29 AM , Rating: 2
Good point.


RE: what about copyrights?
By Motoman on 12/24/2008 2:01:42 PM , Rating: 2
If I had to guess, it's probably protected under the same laws that make it legal to take a photograph of anyone and anything in a public area. Essentially the same thing - they're taking pictures of public websites.


Just use http proxy
By AnnihilatorX on 12/24/2008 10:44:00 AM , Rating: 2
It's not like Google or Yahoo is charging them for service, they have every freedom to use other services. If they care so much about their privacy, they could always use a http proxy to search within google. There are plenty available and I am using some of them.




RE: Just use http proxy
By gmyx on 12/24/2008 10:52:41 AM , Rating: 2
You know that, I know that but Joe / Jane User does not. A proxy is not a solution.


Privacy is necessary
By hitman699 on 12/24/2008 12:42:17 PM , Rating: 2
First off google is huge.. They are my email provider and reccomend I never delete my messages so that they have every single email conversation I have had on file,they are my search provider and keep track of every search I make, they carry my telephone calls with grand central and have a copy of every voicemail I recieve, number that calls me or number they I call.. provide 411 services that can record my voice when I call it to look up places and they know whether I looked up the address of the local strip club for instance.. They also know everywhere that I go when I use google maps and they have the money to buy out any innovate firm that offers a competing service, then use that to track my activities for advertising purposes...they have more information on each individual then the central intelligence agency or the national security agency.. but really no oversight as to what they do with it..

and not to sound like a conspiracy theorist. but with one executive order..in the interest of "national security", "fighting terrorism" or for "helping the children".. and all that data could become property of my uncle sam or china etc... sorry google has a responsibility to not record information on me or anyone else.. switching providers is not an option as they all do it.. because they can.. legislation needs to be setup that says you cannot record that vast amount of information on american citizens and store it.. even for 9 months...or 3 months... I personally hope the europeans have the balls to force them to not store information on people. IF they have to become a paid service.. so be it

at the very least.. there should be a delete button that purges any data about me whenever I choose to. and its gone permenently..




RE: Privacy is necessary
By Darkk on 12/27/2008 4:19:41 PM , Rating: 2
Nahh.. Online storage is so cheap they can afford to keep EVERYTHING forever.

Case in point, look at your own hard drive and My Documents. Noticed how much stuff you've accumulated over the years you didn't bother to delete anything? Including e-mails?

Hell, I got e-mails going back 10 years!!

If it's not google then somebody out there is recording everything you do and say forever.



Amazing
By ShaolinSoccer on 12/24/2008 3:46:45 PM , Rating: 2
I find it amusing that this type of article is on Dailytech considering that Dailytech puts Vibrant ads and all sorts of tracking cookies on thier web pages.




RE: Amazing
By Darkk on 12/27/2008 4:23:56 PM , Rating: 2
It's pretty common and my router uses IDS to filter out stuff like this. Alot of times some webpages wouldn't even load because the router is blocking an ad which contains tracking information. I can name several websites that does this including cnn.com's video section. I'd have to constantly refresh the page so the offending ad would go away.


One easy fix
By tenchymuyo2 on 12/24/2008 7:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
Using Firefox, you can download an add-on to Customize Google. That's what its called: CustomizeGoogle 0.76

In it, you can Remove all ads, remove click tracking, Anonymize the Google cookie UID, and there is an option to not send any cookies to Google Analytics.

I'm going to quote the paragraph for the option of Anonymizing the Google cookie UID:
"Avoid the possibility of Google building up a cohesive profile about you. This does not block your access to Google Account services, such as GMail. Some services may be affected. For example, in the Google Groups the list of 'Recently visited' groups becomes empty."

Now I'll quote the "Don't send any cookies to Google Analytics" option:
"Google Analytics (also known as Urchin) is a service from Google that helps website owners analyze how users use their sites. Information about your use of a certain website (including your IP address) can automatically be transmitted to and stored by Google using cookies."

These belong on ANY Firefox user's add-on list. There are many other options that affect Google users, but the ones I went over specifically deal with privacy.

Oh- this doesn't work for IE users. In fact, nothing works for IE users ever anywhere. Stop using IE. ActiveX is slaughtering people with the scareware/fakeware virus scanners.




RE: One easy fix
By omnicronx on 12/25/2008 1:21:36 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry but it does not matter what browser or plugin you use, Google will know your ip, and what you searched for. This is all server side, the client has no say here.


Forrest for the trees
By uhgotnegum on 12/24/2008 11:04:00 AM , Rating: 2
I am not saying the article is "missing it," but this is one example of a growing concern in digitized, cloud, internet environments; where do Google's (or insert another name) right to offer its services on its terms begin to unreasonably (key word) interfere with my right to privacy and access to information, generally? Where is the proper balance?

If we accept the concept of a right to privacy, I think we're going to need to develop standards (do NOT read "standards" as "laws") specifically for the digital world, which provide clear and understandable boundaries for everyone to better understand what he/she is exposing.

Right now, all I see are EULA and other "check this box to agree to our terms" and the terms are the typical boilerplate legal language we apply to physical world agreements. I believe there is a fundamental difference between the physical world and the standards applied there and the digital world, where you don't necessarily "see" what's happening.

The concept is still a little muddled in my mind, but the digital world has characteristics that differ in a significant enough way from the physical world that we can't rely on an "apples to apples" application of the standards everyone applies in daily life.




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