Google ups commitment to privacy

Google Tuesday punched up its privacy commitment in Made By Google products, making it easier for Chrome users to block or clear cookies and baking privacy into its products.

Promising to be transparent about data collection, to not to sell personal information and to give users more control over reviewing, moving and deleting data, Google laid out privacy specifics in a blog post and demonstrated at the Google I/O conference how features in its home connected devices and services safeguard user data and privacy.

Calling privacy “one of the most important topics of our time” and appearing to take a jab at Apple whose CEO Tim Cook had criticized Google and others for “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai also wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that it “cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services. Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.”

Tech companies have come under fire for their data collection and sharing practices – with privacy violations, some of them egregious, have prompted regulators and lawmakers to more closely scrutinized them.

Facebook has struggled to regain trust after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other incidents shook users. And recently, Google revealed that its Nest security alarm included a hidden microphone.

Lauding Google for “positioning itself as a privacy-forward company,” Dan Goldstein, president and owner of Page 1 Solutions, said “given the Chrome browser’s dominance, it allows Google to promote consumer privacy like Apple while distinguishing Google from Facebook with its multitude of data privacy scandals.”

Under the Google’s strengthened privacy posture, cameras in Nest will only send video footage to the company only if a user in the home “has explicitly turned the camera on or enabled a feature that needs it.” A “clear visual indicator” will show that the camera is on.

The company pledged to clarify the types of information sensors send to Google, and provide examples of how that information is used, to help users “better understand their purpose.”

“This also includes answering clearly if your home sensor data sent to Google is used to show you ads,” Google said. “And so we commit to you that for all our connected home devices and services, we will keep your video footage, audio recordings, and home environment sensor readings separate from advertising, and we won’t use this data for ad personalization.”

Goldstein called that “a positive step toward data privacy for consumers and it may force advertisers to focus on contextual advertising - advertising to consumers who visit specific web pages based on the content on those pages.”

He said “contextual advertising feels a lot less like Big Brother and benefits consumers by presenting them with ads that are relevant to the content of the pages they are visiting.” 

The change also should let advertisers “target consumers based on their interests, and that is a win-win for both consumers and advertisers,” Goldstein noted. “At the end of the day, it will probably also be a win for Google if more advertising dollars go to Google Ads in search."

Usman Rahim, digital security and operations manager for The Media Trust, said the “developments are positive as they will encourage all players across the digital supply chain to know each other and ban those who have a poor or unknown reputation.”

Noting that “third-party cookies and other third-party code are often used to compromise sites and their unsuspecting users,” Rahim said, “taking a thorough inventory of digital third-parties will help website owners fulfill the requirement of a growing number of data privacy regulations, which hold these owners responsible for the actions of their third-parties.” 

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