Not being evil remains a challenge

So a non-profit group called Privacy International — one of the groups behind the Big Brother Awards — has released a report that puts Google at the very bottom of the pack when it comes to protecting the privacy of its users, and Google blogger Matt Cutts is pretty pissed about it (congrats for sleeping on it before posting though, Matt). At first glance, he makes some good points about why he thinks the ranking is unfair.

snipshot_e4r2xe6u6gw.jpgShould Google get a lower rating than AOL, which released search data from thousands of users, or Yahoo and Microsoft — both of whom willingly sent user data to the Department of Justice, unlike Google? That seems a little harsh. And all because Privacy International found what it says are “numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations.” The group has been down this road before with Google, in particular criticizing the company’s Gmail application for what it believes are infringements of users’ privacy (most of which are entered into willingly by users). But the biggest clue to why Google comes last is relatively far down in the report, where the group says that one of the primary dangers is “the diversity and specificity of Google’s product range” as well as the company’s “market dominance and the sheer size of its user base.”

In other words, Google has grown to such a size — and has its digital fingers in so many pies — that it can be seen as evil when a smaller company with fewer fingers might not. I think that is the company’s biggest challenge for the future: how can Google be as big as it is, and get so much information from so many users (again, most of it willingly) and not be seen as a threat? As far as the PI report goes, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land says it is flawed

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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