Google reacts to privacy issue

Building an iconic counter-cultural company must be a lot of fun. It's all long afternoons of blue-sky thinking, lying in beanbags and staring at lava lamps. But complete the transition from industry upstart to world leader and that's where the troubles begin. Just ask Google. Increasing amount of flak over its practices of late has meant less time for hockey in the car park, and more spent on damage limitation. Its decision yesterday to back down on the issue of how long it holds onto users' personal search data was simply the latest case.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
Privacy is a massive issue for internet users. If Google is successful in its bid for rival ad system DoubleClick in US, it will have access to more information about people's web habits than any other company in the world - data that can be used to build user profiles detailing religious, political and sexual leanings. All of which may be appealing to advertisers; not so nice for the average Joe Interweb.

Google was already getting flak for its collaboration with the Chinese government, in which it assisted the authorities in censoring information. The news sent webheads into a frenzy, saying it went against the whole ethos of the net - free access to information for all - not to mention Google's haughty but inherently sensible motto: ‘Don't be evil'.

Google seems to be reacting at least. As well as agreeing to EU demands for an 18-month limit on retaining user search data, it may well soon cut the duration of its ‘cookies', small files used to track individual web activity, from 30 years to two. And the company has also come forward to back a campaign to cut carbon dioxide emissions from computers. Small gestures, but ones that should help satisfy the netheads that the firm is living up to its own motto.

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