It's really just another day at the office. What's different this time is that this war of words between Privacy International, Google and Google's supporters is escalating in public (see Techmeme).
This stuff happens damn near every time a journalist/blogger writes about a survey that's not complementary about a technology company--especially if that vendor happens to be touchy about the issue highlighted in the survey. The calls go like this: Hi, I saw you wrote about a survey saying X. Well, I'd like you to know Y about their methods and how their survey size isn't large enough to be reliable. We can get you customers refuting the conclusion of this survey, which is obviously biased. Now since you're a fair person, I'd like you to consider this before giving this obviously BS survey attention in the future.
These conversations typically happen in private. In fact, I have one scheduled tomorrow.
Be aware of the motives on both sides of any survey. In the case of Google, the company can't afford doubts to arise about its privacy policies--especially with its DoubleClick acquisition awaiting approval from the Feds. Meanwhile, the Privacy International study touches on a raw nerve--we're all prepared to believe that Google is evil already, or getting there. It's the fear of Google that's everywhere. If you're Google you face the following: The privacy genie is out of the bottle and it's too late to recover--it's not like the press is going to do a big story on why the Privacy International survey is flawed (although Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts will). In addition, Google is PR clueless (a side effect of arrogance?) so it really has issues. Robert Scoble has more on Google's PR.
As for Privacy International the motives are clear: The group wants headlines. It wants controversy. And it wants to pick a fight with Google. Privacy International hopes Google picks on them--it keeps its study out there even longer. It's been a great weekend for Privacy International--it stuck Google in the eye with a stick and milked it by alleging a smear campaign. "We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial," says Privacy International in its report.
Gee, ya think.
Privacy International is miffed because Google didn't respond to the group. Spare me. Like most of us, Google probably never heard of Privacy International until now.
What's truly notable about this fiasco with Google is the idea that privacy exists anyway. New media companies collect anonymous information that can be combined to target you. Meanwhile, Privacy International says Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Facebook and Yahoo all have services that are a "substantial threat" to privacy. My hunch: Google was on par with those aforementioned firms and Privacy International flunked the company for the headlines.
But the writing on the wall is clear: Privacy doesn't exist on the Web. Get over it.