Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Google Privacy Practices Worse Than ISP Snooping, AT&T Charges

I want to continue to follow up on the whole "Google is horrible on privacy issues" story. Because let's face it, how goes Google, is going to have a major impact on how goes a lot of things when it comes to industry privacy practices and policies.

While I take anything AT&T claims with a big grain of salt, I did notice this article in Wired magazine in which they trash Google's privacy practices.

Ryan Singel writes:

Online advertising networks -- particularly Google's -- are more dangerous than the fledgling plans and dreams of ISPs to install eavesdropping equipment inside their internet pipes to serve tailored ads to their customers, AT&T says.

At least that's what the company told Congress in a letter early this week, responding to four prominent House lawmakers who are bird-dogging ISPs about their online profiling practices. Those lawmakers asked 33 internet companies on Aug. 1 to explain some of their monitoring practices, Most have replied.


AT&T rightly points out that Google can know almost as much a snooping ISP could -- which, is the case for users who install Google's toolbar and don't know to opt out of Google's Web History program. And if Google does combine its third-party cookie information, with user's search histories, with Gmail summaries, and with Google Analytics data, among other data sources, they would be a proper domestic intelligence agency.


AT&T goes on to say then that because of Google's singular ability to gather online data that online advertising networks are substantially similar to ISPs monitoring their customers. Google and Yahoo are perhaps the only two online empires that AT&T could realistically point towards to make that argument.


But the argument is also just wrong. You pay your ISP to carry your traffic to and fro. It can see everything you do online, unless you take extreme measures. It could know where you bank, the contents of your emails and chats, what sites you shop at, what you search about --regardless of search engine -- and everything you read or watch online.

Your ISP does not need to be peering into your traffic to decide whether to show you ads for hemorrhoid cream or sports bobble heads.

Stay tuned, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has been taking on ISPs that want to or have watched what their customers do online in order to serve them targeted ads appears to be nearing an online privacy omnibus bill. In addition, this month's unprecedented decision by the FCC to punish Comcast for its secret and deceptive interference with file sharing traffic also bodes well for privacy advocates.

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