Google's data-collecting habits drawing more scrutiny



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This all comes about because of a move that Google made in March of this year, when they consolidated the privacy policies of most of its products (YouTube, Search, News, etc.) into one, singular policy that covers each of their product sites. After the move, EU regulators began investigating the process by which Google collects information and how they protect their users privacy. They requested more information from Google in May, and now are apparently unhappy with the answers they’ve received from Google. The letter from EU regulators says:

 "Google’s answers have not demonstrated that your company endorses the key data protection principles of purpose limitation, data quality, data minimization, proportionality and right to object. Indeed, the privacy policy suggests the absence of any limit concerning the scope of the collection and the potential uses of the personal data.”

Google has a long history of accusations of being cavalier with consumer privacy, which I’m sure is what worries the EU. Just weeks ago, Google was slapped with a record $22.5 million fine for violating Internet privacy. The fine was levied for purposefully circumventing Safari’s privacy protections — going around protections that were installed and turned on at the behest of the user. Before that, Google was involved in a large amount of controversy over its WiFi snooping in Europe and the U.S. It seems that the cars Google uses to take pictures for its Streetview feature were also collecting data on private citizens through their wireless networks. It was found that Google had been collecting emails, passwords, photographs, and even chat messages. After initially claiming it was an accident, European regulators found evidence that Google was using the collected data for research purposes.

Google has also faced accusations of manipulating their search results to favor their own interests. Despite proclamations that Google doesn’t manipulate their results, they seem to be one of the only Internet companies that believes it. In a Congressional hearing late last year, Google testified on its search practices alongside two of the companies claiming to be adversely affected by its practices. These companies were Yelp and NextTag, whose representatives both testified they felt their companies were hurt by the anti-competitive practices put into place by Google. Many other companies are a part of a coalition of companies that feel the same way, including Microsoft, Hotwire and Oracle.

The American Consumer Institute earlier this year published a study examining whether or not Google does, in fact, manipulate their search results. One test was done to see if Google would favor their own sites more often than competitors would favor theirs. The study pitted Google against Bing and Yahoo. The results showed that Google favored their own products two times more often than either Yahoo or Bing, while Yahoo and Bing showed no such favoritism. The ACI study similar results just when applied to other areas, as well.

Examination and rectification of these problems is essential for the market to work correctly — because not correcting these problems invites government intervention. Government intervention brings with it onerous regulation and oversight on the entire technology industry at a time when our economy can least handle such intrusions. For free markets to work, government must stay small and out of the way — otherwise, it’s inhibiting the innovative practices that allowed Google and others to grow into the great successes they are today.

Christenson is a digital tech writer for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.