Privacy has always been something of a PR nightmare for Google. The company, after all, makes its money by directing ads at the people it knows will be most likely to click on them. How does it know what you will click on? By collecting countless terabytes of data on your searches, emails, clicks, and Buzzes, of course! When things go wrong for Google, it's usually something related to privacy. Like all of those pesky payload data it collected from unsecured WiFi with its StreetView cars or the botched rollout of Buzz that made it oh-so-easy for people to follow you.
And guess what? Google is now rewriting its privacy policies. In a blog post yesterday, the company's Associate General Counsel, Mike Yang, wrote that
...we’re simplifying and updating Google’s privacy policies. To be clear, we aren’t changing any of our privacy practices; we want to make our policies more transparent and understandable. As a first step, we’re making two types of improvements:
Hmmmm. That may seem obvious to the average corporate attorney, but it hardly seems obvious to the average consumer, whom these changes are supposed to protect and educate.
I've made it clear in the past that I have no problem with the way Google collects and uses my data. I consent to every last bit of it and am willing to sacrifice some personal privacy for the convenience of all things Google (although I just can't get excited about Buzz, but whatever...). Average users, however, are still not making a truly informed consent, and, in general, Google needs to do a much better job of being truly transparent rather than simply saying that they're being transparent.
These change to the wording of their various privacy policies reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when Arthur Dent argues with the construction foreman over the destruction of his house:
Prosser: But the plans were on display.
Arthur Dent: On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar.
Prosser: That's the display department.
Arthur Dent: With a torch.
Prosser: The lights had probably gone.
Arthur Dent: So had the stairs.
Prosser: But you did see the notice, didn't you?
Arthur Dent: Oh, yes. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign outside the door saying "Beware of the Leopard." Ever thought of going into advertising?
Come on, Google - you have incredible reach. If you want to educate people, educate them. Spin it however you want, but do more than rewording some policies. That doesn't count as transparency.