Analysis: Google’s attitude

Google's attitude to privacy issues is not making it any new friends. Mark Mayne reports.

It's not shaping up to be a good year for Google. The onceall-conquering company may be going from strength to strengthfinancially, but in credibility terms, its stock is falling.

Last month saw a harsh report from Privacy International, which gaveGoogle the lowest possible ranking in an analysis of privacy practicesamong some of the biggest online players.

The human rights watchdog said last month: "We have found numerousdeficiencies and hostilities in Google's approach to privacy that gowell beyond those of other organisations. While a number of companiesshare some of these negative elements, none comes close to achievingstatus as an endemic threat to privacy."

Google responded by claiming that the report was skewed and PrivacyInternational was paid by Microsoft.

In an open letter to Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, PrivacyInternational accused the search giant of launching a smear campaign. Itsaid: "Two European journalists have independently told us that Googlerepresentatives have contacted them with the claim 'PrivacyInternational has a conflict of interest regarding Microsoft'."

The letter continued to say that no company had made a similaraccusation in Privacy International's 17-year history.

Google then seemed to back down and announced it would anonymise storeddata after 18 months, instead of after 24 months as previously. The EUjustice and home affairs commissioner, Franco Frattini, welcomed themove: "I appreciate the commitment of Google not only to meet ourexpectations in terms of protection of privacy or better on cutting thetime and reducing the time of retention of personal data," he said.

This concession has failed to convince the blogosphere, which is callingfor boycotts of Google products. Whether this is still possible is amoot point, but the key point is that a company that was seen as cooljust a few months ago is now looking more and more like the bad guy.

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