20 November 2010

Google - Guilty, Beguiling, Gullable or Just Plain Evil?

Meanwhile back at Streetview...

I am struggling to comprehend Google's actions in the Streetview affair. But worse I am struggling with the manner in which the various governments have acted in this affair. Particularly two countries (USA and UK) specific actions have demonstrated the need for greater oversight and full pursuit of the protection of the individual.

There is no disputing the facts. So we know that Google's people - both full time and part time contractors under direct orders from a company led team deliberately captured personal data and invaded 'electronically' people's property and captured information about them systematically with forethought, prior notification and any consideration of the consequences of their actions.

Google first denied that this had happened at all. Then they denied that it had happened deliberately calling the act "accidental". They further denied that any personal data had been captured and/or stored but then determined after they had been found out that indeed - yes - personal information had been captured and stored AND processed.

Google is an internet giant and it behaves like any typical corporate entity does - it tries to use its large scale to provide information to itself about its customers. It fiercely guards that information it has captured as proprietary company information. Privacy laws are inconsistent across legal jurisdictions. The laws are not clear in almost all geographies. A loop hole Google has consistently and willfully exploited. In the past companies have used general information or small scale unique personal information to target customers with advertisements offers and the like. Where Google has changed the game and is unique is the nature and scale of its actions.

Consider these statement of facts.
Disclaimer here. I believe these statements to be fact and am very willing to retract any of these statements in part or whole if someone can prove that they are individually or collectively false.
1. Google collects and correlates information from an ever widening list of touch points. These touch points are the most comprehensive data ever collected about individuals in the history of mankind, more than any government, corporation and individual has ever done.
2. Google correlates that information to an individual entity and can so identify the customer. The extent of this correlation is more comprehensive than any other entity - government, corporate or individual has ever been capable of or has actually executed.
3. Google refuses to stop collecting information about individuals and only offers very limited opt out of legally or mandated sections of the information that it collects.
4. Google has agreed - only when forced and as far as I can tell, never openly and voluntarily - to limited occasions when it will not use some subsection of this information it has collected.
5. Google has every intention and will never stop expanding the reach of its data gathering efforts irrespective of the laws of any land.
6. Google has every intention and will never stop expanding the ability to use this garnered personal information.

Since it was found out - Google has consistently stuck to the story that the gathering of the data and the invasion of privacy was accidental.

However the evidence does not bear this out. Indeed as I have argued previously Google continues to hone its skills in collecting personal and individual data and turning it into proprietary company owned and controlled information for the express purpose of dominating the market(s) with its power.

Google's core thesis in these actions are that no harm no foul - therefore since no one was damaged in this accidental collection of data that the process is therefore quite legal. In reality this is only hard to prove in the legal sense.

The UK's position on the subject is interesting. It demonstrates that Whitehall's process of dealing with data is once again flawed. Mr David Smith - The UK Deputy Commissioner for Information is the point man on the subject. As the BBC reported:

excert follows:
More training

Mr Smith admitted that the UK had conducted a much more basic investigation.

"We spent less time searching than others did. If we had searched for days and days we would have found more," Mr Smith said.

Following this audit, the ICO ruled that "no significant breach" had occured.

But following publication of the Canadian data commissioner's findings, the ICO changed this to a "significant breach".

Mr Smith said that the ICO had intended all along to base its final judgement on the findings of its counterparts.

"It is not a good use of the data protection authority to duplicate more in-depth enquiries," he said.

"We have based our decision on the findings of other data authorities. It was exactly the same type of information found by them," he said.

Following the ICO's ruling, Google has promised to offer privacy training to its staff.

Other data bodies and groups around the world are still investigating its capture of wi-fi data.

End Quote.

Google has offered only to delete the data "within 9 months" and also to provide unspecified training to its staffers.

Google has not offered to delete any meta data. (Definition of meta data here in this context is data about data). So after it has deleted the raw data it will still hold and presumably use this meta data.

What to make of all of this?

There are specific actions that can be taken.

Firstly write to Google and tell them what you feel.
Secondly contact your government local, national or indeed any government entity that is affected by Google. Note that in many cases existing laws have been flouted (in my opinion) and therefore there are cases to be made for challenging Google's actions under existing laws not just information laws.
Thirdly - be vigilant and if you see something that you think is bad, tell your elected officials.
Fourthly - pass on your thoughts to others so that they know about Google's behaviour and how you and I think about them.

Google has benefited mankind enormously. That does not excuse their individual illegal and immoral actions. How you view Google's behaviour is a personal view. But don't just be passive about it.

While we get the Government we deserve - Governments have a legal and moral responsibility to protect the rights of the individual. In the case of data gathering and use - all Governments must now step up to the challenge that faces us. Only when Google is constrained can we be assured of our own freedom of information.


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