Google in cat fight with British MP

Tue 28 July 2009 11:26, Bas van den Beld

Google in cat fight with British MP

Yesterday British MP David Davis decided to bash Google in a column he wrote for The Times. The title "I wouldn’t trust Google with my personal info" was the setup for a column in which he left no doubt on how he believes Google is handling privacy issues.

The same day Google responded with a long post on its European Public Policy Blog, where they look at government, policy and politics in Europe. Google said they were "surprised and disappointed" to read the column in the Times newspaper. They believe Davis' arguments are "based on something of a straw man". The 'conversation' turned in somewhat of a cat fight.

Davis' column was focussed on Google Health. Earlier this month representatives of the Conservative Party said they were planning to transfer people’s health data to Google. "My heart sank" says Davis in his column. "The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ."

Davis believes one should be carefull about giving away data to any company, but is very clear about Google: "Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International, Google has “a history of ignoring privacy concerns. Every corporate announcement has some new practice involving surveillance”. It gave Google the lowest possible assessment rating: “hostile to privacy”. It was the only company of the 20 assessed to get this rating. It also said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” among internet firms, many of which did little to protect their users."

Davis also takes a shot at Streetview, saying Google "drove its high- handed approach to the intrusion on people’s privacy with Streetview."

Google decided to hit back at Davis immediately. In their blogpost they point out that Google so far has not got any immediate plans to bring Google Health to other countries than the US. They then counter the 'allegations' made by Davis.

They say that they were "the first company in our industry to anonymise information when people conduct searches" and they are respecting user privacy. "We automatically blur faces and vehicle number plates, and we make it easy for people with concerns to have their homes removed from Street View if they wish."

Peter Fleischer, Google's Global Privacy Counsel, ends his post by saying: "We're proud of our track record of protecting user privacy. We work hard to make sure our users understand what data we collect and how we use it, because we are committed to transparency and user choice. The important work of education is made more difficult by polemicists who abuse the truth. We are happy to debate our privacy record or policies anytime, but we'd rather that debate was based on fact not fiction."

There are a couple of remarkable elements to this discussion. Off course Google is subject of discussion all the time when it comes to privacy issues, but why Davis decided to take up the glove against Google is not clear. As Google said, Google Health is not available in the UK. The 'anger' in both the column and the responding blogpost though gives ground to believe there is more than meets the eye here.

Another remarkable thing is that if you look at the comments at the column on Times Online the responses are mostly 'in favour' of Google, or should I say 'against the government'...

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