Ten countries fire warning shot at Google

For now, the threat is merely implied.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

As almost everyone knows by now, when Google introduced Google Buzz, the developers decided to make everyone's Gmail contact list public and visible. There was an almost immediate public outcry, and Google quickly remedied the situation.

Last week, I showed how this egregious privacy violation caught up with Obama administration Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin, showing how the former Google executive is still in regular contact with Google people even while serving at the White House.

Also read: Former Googler in hot water over White House email practices

The Google Buzz problem didn't go unnoticed by the government technology leaders in ten other countries. In fact, the information czars of Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom collectively informed Google CEO Eric Schmidt that they were not amused (PDF).

They said the Google Buzz roll-out "displayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws".

Next: A warning shot »

They said it wasn't the first time Google had pulled a stunt like this. They claimed that Google violated individuals ability to control their personal information. Here's my favorite line:

Launching a product in "beta" form is not a substitute for ensuring that new services comply with fair information principles before they are introduced.

Then, later in the letter, the gaggle of ten information czars presented six commandments of information privacy, ranging from only collecting the minimum amount of personal information, to explaining how information is managed, to creating default privacy settings, to making sure those settings are easy to find and use, to making sure personal data is protected, and for allowing people to delete their accounts.

This letter is, essentially, a warning shot across the bow. Here you have ten countries that collectively control almost 20% of the world's total GDP. Combined, they've got more than twice the GDP of China and almost 75% of the United State's Gross Domestic Product.

In other words, continuing to annoy these nations could be economically painful for Google.

I'm from New Jersey and back home, if someone takes two fingers and points to his eyes and then you, it means, "I'm watching you" -- and you better behave or else.

That's what this letter was to Schmidt. Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom are watching.

For now, the threat is merely implied.

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