Countries criticize Google over privacy, point to Buzz and Street View

Ten countries are calling on Google to pay more attention to privacy with its services.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

A group of 10 countries has joined forces by calling on Google to build more privacy protections into its services and warned them about putting technological innovation above these protections, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Leaders from the 10 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom - signed a letter that mostly focuses around the rollout of Google Buzz but also acknowledges that Google acted quickly to remedy that situation.

The countries also called Google to the mat over the Street View feature in Google Maps, noting that the company launched the service "without due consideration of privacy and data protection laws and cultural norms." They also criticized Google for addressing privacy concerns, such as the retention of unblurred facial images, after the fact.

And that's all they had - two things. One of them has been addressed by Google already and the countries acknowledge that. The other - the Street View matter - is something that's still open for debate.

As a side note, Google told the WSJ that the timing of the letter was ironic given that the company plans to share today information about the number of requests it receives from foreign governments.

The Buzz rollout was a bit of a fiasco - I'll give the government officials that much. But this argument over Street View is getting pretty old. Privacy advocates have argued that Google hasn't done enough to warn people when the Street View cameras will be rolling into town (even though there's a website for that information) and that capturing images of people on the street and putting them up on the Internet is crossing a line when it comes to privacy. Google also addresses privacy - and actions that can be taken to address Street View concerns - on its site.

Here's a question: If I'm on vacation in Paris and happening to snapping pictures of the Eiffell Tower and some people who are walking by happen to get caught in my picture, does that mean I can't post it on Flickr or my Facebook page? Should I have given the government advanced notice that I will coming into the country with a camera and plan to snap some photographs while there? Perhaps the government of that country should issue an advisory that tourists are heading their way and may be armed with cameras. Proceed into the streets with caution.

Of course, that's ridiculous. And so is the argument by government officials concerned about privacy when it comes to images captured in the public domain - regardless of what country it is.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for privacy protections - but these governments are fighting the wrong fight. Instead, what they've done is written a letter that complains about a problem that's already been addressed and another problem that's not really a problem at all.

Move on, folks. There's nothing to see here.

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