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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'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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RE: A *crazy* idea
By GeorgeH on 12/24/2008 2:33:44 PM , Rating: 5
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)

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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