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Google fears opt-in privacy regulation

Mark Little | June 30, 2010
Privacy debacles from Google and Facebook are raising public awareness of the Internet giants reliance on our data to make their money, as well as the liberties being taken with our privacy.
One privacy gaffe too many piques public and government attention

Google Buzz was launched in February 2010. A social networking addition to Googles Gmail service, it was designed to instantly create a social network of nearly 150 million. Without prior consent, Google set Buzzs defaults to post information from your Google Reader and Picassa accounts on a Buzz profile visible to your contacts list, and to auto-follow your contacts as well as have them auto-follow you. Google presumed, as all social networks rather primitively seem to, that your email contacts are all homogeneous friends rather than a spectrum of business and personal acquaintances that we wish to treat very differently. Google quickly felt the venting of the publics fury at having their privacy violated with no clear way to opt out. The solution was for Google to effectively reset the default from opt out to opt in, invite users to manually approve followers, and make the privacy settings more transparent. However, the damage was already done.

The application of opt-in regulation is the problem, not opt in itself

Google is now lobbying hard against opt-in regulation that might allow users to opt in to new privacy settings, and is using its own scare tactics by picking only those example contexts that make an opt-in method look completely impractical, such as the setting of cookies on entering a website. Google suggests, understandably, that if users were asked to opt in to the setting of every cookie then they could be prompted to click through dozens of requests to accept cookies, quickly making the Internet user experience dysfunctional a point that Google is using to damn opt-in regulation altogether.

However, lets look at Googles solution to the Buzz privacy debacle. Google didnt allow its users to opt in to start with, but its solution following the uproar was to belatedly change privacy settings to an opt-in method. Its interesting to consider that, had regulation existed, the Buzz privacy error might never have happened. Opt-in regulation in itself is not the problem and should not be discounted; the problem lies with the type of opt-in regulation and the manner in which its applied.


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