May 29, 2007: In "NY to Google: Stop Trapping Consumer Data, or No DoubleClick Merger" (story below) I report and analyze the concerted effort underway by New York's Governor Spitzer administration to require Google to come clean on how it "tracks the habits of millions of Internet users. "
In a letter to the FTC, the New York State Consumer Protection Board asked the FTC to halt the Google DoubleClick merger pending satisfactory consumer privacy protections and safeguards on the part of Google.
The FTC has now opened a preliminary antitrust investigation into the $3.1 billion Google DoubleClick deal, according to "sources" cited by the New York Times.
MAY 10, 2007: Has Google CEO Eric Schmidt finally met his match in New York state Governor Eliot Spitzer?
Schmidt feigns scant concern over Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit claiming "massive copyright fringement" following the Google $1.65 billion stock buyout of YouTube. Will the chief Googler also "dismiss" the efforts of Spitzer's administration to call for a "halt" to Google's planned $3.1 billion cash buyout of DoubleClick?
If so, it would be foolhardy.
In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) is asking the FTC to halt the merger until questions are answered about how Google tracks the habits of millions of Internet users. The CPB also wants to know what will happen once the merger allows Google to collect even more information.
People may not realize it, but Google already collects and retains an enormous amount of personal data about the specific websites and advertisements that are visited by millions of people, said Mindy Bockstein Chairperson and Executive Director of the CPB.
The CPB is urging the FTC to require Google to make full and public disclosure of its current data collection practices and contemplated data collection practices post-merger and establish a publicly disclosed, clear and conspicuous data collection policy, including:
- a plan to protect Google's database from cyberthieves;
- consumer access to the personally-identifiable information in Google's database and the ability to delete or edit inaccurate information;
- an opt-out mechanism that would allow an Internet user to prevent Google from tracking and storing information about the websites visited by an individual computer user; and,
- remedies in the event of a data breach or failure to comply with a consumer’s opt-out request.
In her letter to the FTC, Chairperson Bockstein wrote:
Your intervention is necessary to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect personal data and avoid the chilling effect that unrestrained data collection could have on the Internet. This would likely occur if consumers become mistrustful of using the Internet for fear of identity theft, the dissemination of incorrect information, and embarrassment, for example.
The CPN has also issued a consumer alert, urging New Yorkers to "take action to protect your privacy":
Goggle, Inc. plans to buy DoubleClick Inc. This merger presents significant privacy implications. The combination of DoubleClick’s Internet surfing history generated through consumers’ pattern of clicking on specific advertisements, coupled with Google’s database of consumers’ past Internet searches, will result in the creation of “super-profiles,” which will make up the world’s single largest electronic repository of personally and non-personally identifiable information. Without appropriate safeguards, this database could, for example, be made available without consumers’ knowledge or consent to secondary users, including vendors of personal data, as well as made public as evidence in litigation or through data breaches.
New York is asking consumers to write to the Federal Trade Commission to:
Voice concern regarding the privacy implications of the DoubleClick and Google merger (and) to require Google to protecty the security and integrity of our private data, including by allowing consumers the ability to access, edit and delete personal information contained withinthe database, and to opt-out from being listed in the database.
As I have oft said, despite CEO Schmidt's public exhortations, Google does indeed "trap" user data.
WILL THE SPITZER ADMINISTRATION SUCCEED IN REQUIRING MEANINGFUL GOOGLE PRIVACY REFORM?
ALSO: Google zeal breeds more identity theft risks Google user data cloud: Do you trust it? and Google vs. Google on privacy, or not and Google plots server farm land grab in Europe and Google, YouTube double down on user tracking: DoubleClick next up and Google to tag users across Web: Privacy Boomerang? and Google scary now? Personal Health Records, sponsored by Google, next and Google Analytics: Should Google be minding YOUR Web business?