Thumbs down for Google, Facebook Personal Privacy Concerns

Thumbs down for Google, Facebook Personal Privacy Concerns

Summary: In a week when Facebook are expanding their 'like' button to cover the entire internet, the heads of the data protection authorities of several countries wrote to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to deliver a thumbs down about the privacy rights of the world’s citizens.


In a week when Facebook are expanding their 'like' button to cover the entire internet, the heads of the data protection authorities of several countries wrote to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to deliver a thumbs down about the privacy rights of the world’s citizens.

Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the heads of the data protection authorities in France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom wrote to Schmidt to formally express their concerns about privacy issues related to Google Buzz:

...In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private, one-to-one web-based e-mail service, and converted it into a social networking service, raising concern among users that their personal information was being disclosed.  Google automatically assigned users a network of “followers” from among people with whom they corresponded most often on Gmail, without adequately informing Gmail users about how this new service would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent decisions. This violated the fundamental principle that individuals should be able to control the use of their personal information.

Users instantly recognized the threat to their privacy and the security of their personal information, and were understandably outraged. To your credit, Google apologized and moved quickly to stem the damage.

While your company addressed the most privacy-intrusive aspects of Google Buzz in the wake of this public protest and most recently (April 5, 2010) you asked all users to reconfirm their privacy settings, we remain extremely concerned about how a product with such significant privacy issues was launched in the first place.  We would have expected a company of your stature to set a better example.  Launching a product in “beta” form is not a substitute for ensuring that new services comply with fair information principles before they are introduced...

Also citing Google Street View privacy concerns, they then requested that "like all organizations entrusted with people’s personal information" Google should incorporate fundamental privacy principles directly into the design of new online services.  That means, at a minimum: •    collecting and processing only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to achieve the identified purpose of the product or service; •    providing clear and unambiguous information about how personal information will be used to allow users to provide informed consent; •    creating privacy-protective default settings; •    ensuring that privacy control settings are prominent and easy to use; •    ensuring that all personal data is adequately protected, and •    giving people simple procedures for deleting their accounts and honouring their requests in a timely way.

Meanwhile a lot of people have indicated that they would like to be able to use a 'dislike' button on Facebook, but it seems the online world we live in is geared up to register pleasure only, and to then subsequently supply advertising messaging to users about topics they've expressed interest in. Twitter has followed Facebook in shedding their developer ecosystem to compete with them and rolling out advertising, but Ning, which already has a 'pay to turn off the advertising' model has decided to start charging for use of their online content management/community platform.

Your rights as an online citizen seem certain to be legislated for by the European Union and consortiums of politicians around the world with the intent of protecting your privacy: the letter to Google's Schmidt is an example of the sort of muscle flexing which is starting to be demonstrated.

The reality is that by the time these (probably ham fisted) rules and regulations are in place, the whole online world will have moved on as advertising messaging causes the 'social media' fad to jump the shark.

The early days of email were similar: it was a hugely valuable and efficient communication medium between those who got how to use it, just like Twitter was in its early days. As more and more people figured out how to use it the spam started and we are now at a crisis point with everyone forced to wade through a fire hose of messages to find the important stuff.

Setting up email filters became necessary to triage volume, and people set up private addresses for their important contacts.

As the 'social' tools mutate and scale up we are seeing a similar filtering crisis build up. The prize for the suppliers of these 'free' to you services are marketing dollars to influence you on a personal contextual level, as a new (and rather cosy) Neilsen Report about Facebook  "Advertising Effectiveness: Understanding the Value of a Social Media Impression" demonstrates.

“Social ads” that contain social advocacy are a lightweight form of endorsement on ads, and can drive increased brand lift while delivering reach on a similar scale as paid campaigns

chuckles Neilsen happily, forgetting the advertising rule about overloading and polluting the messaging channel over time, as has happened with many previous mediums.

From an internal Enterprise 2.0 collaboration perspective these rapid social changes in the way we are marketed to and influenced has a huge bearing on the way employees and partners work together. Governance and desired usage patterns around workflow to drive to well defined business goals are muddied by the ability to use similar internet and mobile tools to personally interact with your world in a self indulgent way.

A possible benefit of the coming government legislation - which will hopefully limit the powers and penetration without permission of some of the more aggressive online hustlers - will inform workplace governance models and also sober up some of the more irrationally exuberant 'reinvent the world in their own image' influencers.

We are going through a huge ramping up of commercialization of your internet and mobile experiences, and unlike previous rich communication mediums such as TV and radio, like telephone cold calls we will be increasingly bombarded with interaction requests through our work and social life interaction tools with little differentiation.

Formalizing the difference between these two mediums in order to get work done and remain focused  continues to be a challenge.

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Topics: Legal, Collaboration, Google, Social Enterprise


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • Well written; thoughtful and reflective

    I have seen several rank capitalist comment about how its no government's business as to how they conduct their respective business.

    They would be grateful if regulation disappeared and they were free to do as they wish with "their" customers.

    Regulation needs to happen and it needs to happen quickly in regards to privacy. It's no suprise that US has not made itself heard - it is nothing but a shell government with corporate titans running the pure capitalism agenda (no... I am not a communist or socialist...I believe in balance, much like you see in countries like Canada.)

    Regardless, I am wondering if there is really any hope for most North American citizens. When will they actually wake up and think about the true costs of using services that take advantage of privacy loop holes.
  • social media spam filtering

    one great way to filter out the spam facebook spews out
    at you is a small browser script called Facebook Purity
    (aka Fluff Busting Purity) it filters out all the useless
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  • Moving on.

    "...the whole online world will have moved on as advertising messaging causes the ?social media? fad to jump the shark."

    I've been waiting for someone to express this opinion.
  • Who is really responsible?

    Personally I stopped using GMail and MySpace after reading the privacy policies. I suppose I am one of the few who *actually* reads and interprets these things for my own protection. Facebook was no exception when I considered maybe it was better managed than MySpace and probably is, but to no degree that makes me feel safe.

    There is one born every minute, as the adage goes. Who can actually protect the consumers? Unfortunately the only trustworthy protecting is from the consumer themselves, and too many are not educated enough to do so online. I am sure few can argue that if every person takes an internet ethics and education class it would quell most of these issues. But by all means businesses should be held liable, but the consumer should also be aware and skeptical.
  • Street View? Really?

    If you're doing it in public (on the sidewalk, on the street, or on your lawn), it isn't private. No one can be violating your privacy by taking random photos on the street. The police can act on what they see without warrants. Paparazzi do way worse than Street View does, and they're in the clear. Silly argument.

    Buzz, though, that was a tragedy.
    • Taking, no, publishing, yes.

      It isn't the taking of pictures, although I don't like it and don't want my photo taken when I am walking along the street.

      But, to publish an image, the photographer has to first get a signed waiver, before the image can be used.

      Likewise, if they happened to drive past my house when the door or garage was open and people can see what I have, that is an invasion of privacy. If somebody walks past the house, they can look in, I can't stop that. But I don't have to like photos of my possessions (or underwear hanging on the line) posted on the net for all to see.

      Still, it isn't a problem here, Google haven't been near my street and they have to delete the pictures after a couple of months anyway...
  • RE: Thumbs down for Google, Facebook Personal Privacy Concerns

    to those of us without a tech degree. how about speaking in 'laymans terms' ?
    i believe it's trying to say something important...

    we at facebook (and myspace) are fed up with the problems affecting our accounts.

    it seems to me, if you're going to run a social network, ie: facebook and myspace, you know how to keep it up and running. you reply to complaints and keep your accounts happy.
    otherwise, you lose your people.

    not very good business practices, i'd say, and it's been going on for too long.
  • Where's the Outrage Against Yahoo and MSN? ZDNet=DramaQueens :O

    What a crock!!! ...I've had more problems with sharing
    info in Yahoo new social networking push than I ever
    had with Gmail!

    In yahoo now I get pelted with MSN LIVE bogus users
    having access to attempt chat with me and it's always
    dating spam instead of real people. What about that?
    You can't turn off anything unless you go back to
    classic mail. Because they have been working on it
    forever and it always says "Construction Zone"!

    Where are they coming from? Not Yahoo!'s always
    the craptastic Microsoft spam!
  • Facebook: To stay or go?

    I see that Facebook are "modifying" their privacy rules again.
    The biggest affront now is that to receive information about privacy changes, we now have to "opt in" and join Facebook Site Governance then to click the "Like" button.
    What a cheek!
    Another issue I have is with Windows Live account's lack of privacy. After trawling the settings and turning off what I think are all the sharing options, I still get contacts from unknowns wanting me to make contact with them even if many of them are not in my language.
  • good idea about facebook

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  • good idea about facebook

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