Google's Data Policy Criticized

By Swartz, Nikki | Information Management, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

Google's Data Policy Criticized


Swartz, Nikki, Information Management


Three public-interest groups have filed a joint complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking it to investigate the potential threat to consumer privacy posed by Google's planned acquisition of DoubleClick, the country's largest ad technology provider.

According to media reports, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, asked the FTC to delay the merger until it investigates Google's data collection and storage practices. The joint complaint demands that Google obtain user permission before collecting data about them and enable users to view the collected information and delete it if they choose.

According to the complaint, "Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick will give one company access to more information about the Internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world. Moreover, Google will operate with virtually no legal obligation to ensure the privacy, security, and accuracy of the personal data that it collects."

The complaint also contends that the merger threatens the privacy interests of 233 million Internet users in North America, 314 million Internet users in Europe, and more than 1.1 billion Internet users worldwide.

Since Google announced plans to buy DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in April, privacy advocates have stated their concerns over the vast amount of data Google would hold if the deal goes through. In late May, the FTC launched an antitrust investigation into the planned deal.

Google, the largest search engine in the United States, received more than 3 billion search queries in March alone, and it regularly stores that data. By acquiring DoubleClick--whose ads reach 80 to 85 percent of web users--Google would have access to a vast database of users' surfing habits spanning hundreds of sites.

Privacy advocates are particularly worried that Google will merge the data from search queries with DoubleClick's records of general web-surfing habits in order to build a centralized database of user profiles. Google officials said that, for now, the company has no plans to merge personally identifiable information with records of search histories and web-surfing habits. …

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