Things are Getting Ugly for Google

Once the media is alerted to the fact that computers can be dangerous, you gotta look out: these people don’t get to actually report on much, these days.

The pile-on du jour at the moment is the Google-and-Privacy issue. It is true: there are certainly a lot of issues swarming around Google these days. However, the pile-on is dangerously close to missing the point on a great many of these issues.

Issue number one is the privacy issue here at home, where the government is planning on using Google for yet another fishing expedition into the private lives of Americans. On this issue, Google is more of a victim than it is a villan. If anything, Google’s been willing to “fight the good fight” on this issue where other companies (such as MSN and Yahoo!) just rolled over and let the government have it’s way with thier clients.

At issue here is the ambiguity of the current laws concerning electronic privacy which were written in 1984 when the technology was much different. Once again, the law was written way too narrowly by people who did not understand technology, and that has left a gaping, mile-wide gap through which the Bush Administration was all too happy to march ~ or try to, at least. See this article from C-Net for more details on the ambiguity of current electronic privacy law.

So on this one issue, what is at stake has more to do with the law than the company. However, this fact alone does not absolve the company of all wrongdoing: why are they tracking things so closely? They have always claimed the moral high-ground on the privacy issue in the past ~ and as I’ve stated, they deserve some credit for pushing back on the Bush Administration ~ but it turns out that they have been keeping a goodly amount of private data long after it has worn out its welcome.

So I do think that its about time that we as consumers began to demand a bit more transparency from Google, and an end to some of these record-keeping practices. For example, one of the business justifications for these records is for localized search optimization. This means being able to tie search results to an area closer to you, with the rationale that you might want to know about businesses in your area over businesses half a world away. OK, that’s both fair and convenient for the end-user, as far as it goes. However, in doing this, they are keeping records of users’ IP addresses in thier entirety. This much is unnecessary. Those of us who understand the way IP addresses work (and Google is certainly among our numbers) understand that the IP address could easily be tracked up to the last set of digits and still easily localize the Client into a broad (but still adequate) locale and meet this need.

Perhaps such a obscurement might be something worth demanding of Google and other search services, or if necessary, to institute in law whenever we get back to such a government as would govern by such obscure concepts as “law.”

There are, of course, other issues with Google flying around at the moment.? However, I think I’ve reached the limit of what one good blog post should have.? I’ll save that for later discussion.