Google Australia MD: we're still testing the privacy waters

Google is still figuring out the right balance between delivering useful tools to customers and preserving user privacy.

Google is still learning where the line is drawn when it comes to what is considered an invasion of user privacy, according to the company's Australian managing director Tim Leeder.

Innovation is moving at a rapid pace, and the tech space is still in the process of figuring out the right balance between delivering beneficial tools to customers and preserving user privacy, Leeder said at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce's Getting Australian Businesses Online event in Sydney yesterday.

Google is still gauging what is acceptable to users when it comes to the threshold of what is considered to be an invasion of privacy, he said.

"Street View is a great example, since it maps every street — that is an incredibly useful thing now, and that's been an accepted feature of the Google product," Leeder said. "I think we're learning over time as to where the lines are.

"It's an issue we take extraordinarily seriously, because we understand users come to Google because they trust us and we have to be very careful how we manage that trust."

The Australian Privacy Commission recently asked Google to destroy all collected payload data , after it emerged that the company had failed to do so previously.

Google has also been involved in several privacy-invasion scandals, including the circumventing of cookie-storing security measures in Apple's Safari web browser. In 2010, Google was discovered to have accidentally collected personal details through unsecured Wi-Fi networks when the company was sending out cars to take pictures for Google Street View.

But the web giant isn't the only company dealing with the subject of user privacy. Apple's iPhone and Google's Android-based handsets both collect users' location data. Facebook is often criticised for surreptitiously changing the privacy settings of its social network.

These may be considered as necessary evils for tech companies that reside in a world where data is king, but being mindful of privacy may be the key to remaining competitive, according to Google.

"We are in business because of the trust our users have with us, but they have alternatives that are very close by," Leeder said. "We often say our competitors are a click away, and that's actually right."


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