British MP David Davis, Google, and Setting the Record Straight

Monday, July 27, 2009 | 5:16 PM

Labels: , ,

We were surprised and disappointed to open the Times newspaper today and find a vitriolic column on Google and our record on privacy, from Conservative Member of Parliament David Davis. Responding to speculation in the Times several weeks ago that the Conservative party was in favour of giving patients the ability to transfer their medical records to private companies, Mr Davis decided to launch an extraordinary attack on Google, riddled with misleading statements. Of course, Mr Davis didn't ask us first for our comments or to check his facts before going to press.

Mr Davis' argument is based on something of a straw man, given that Google Health, our health records product, is only available in the US, and we have no immediate plans to bring it to other countries. But given that he goes on to attack our Street View product as a "high-handed" intrusion on privacy, assert that we do not respect European privacy law, argue we have entered into "an amoral deal with China," and attribute our economic success to "legally unfettered use of personal data", we wanted to set the record straight.

Allegation: Google is "hostile to privacy."

We were the first company in our industry to anonymise information when people conduct searches. We took the US government to court when we were asked to hand over large amounts of data to them. Like all of our products, Street View was built from the ground up to respect user privacy. The imagery is not real time. We automatically blur faces and vehicle number plates, and we make it easy for people with concerns to have their homes removed from Street View if they wish. In the months since Street View launched in the UK, tens of millions of people have found it a useful and interesting tool, whether for exploring a tourist destination, finding a restaurant or checking driving directions.

Allegation: Google claims that European privacy legislation "does not apply to it."

For a company that supposedly ignores European laws, we did not launch Google Street View in the UK until we had the green light from the Information Commissioner! "Google Street View does not contravene the Data Protection Act," said David Evans, the Commissioner's Senior Data Protection Practice Manager, "and, in any case, it is not in the public interest to turn the digital clock back."

Allegation: Google entered an "amoral deal" with China.

As we said when we launched, it wasn't a step we took lightly, but we felt we were doing it for the right reasons - to bring more information to more people. Where Chinese regulations require us to remove sensitive information from our search results we disclose this to users - which is not standard practice in China.

Allegation: Google makes its money from "exploiting its customers' private data for commercial ends."

Google makes the vast majority of its revenue by providing users with free services and serving ads targeted to what the user has searched for or has read. This does not involve selling user data or exposing it in any way. When we launched interest based advertising we did so only after putting users in control of the information collected about them, as we make clear in our user FAQ. In addition, we do not use categories defined by European privacy laws as "sensitive" such as race, religion, sexual orientation, or health when showing ads.

If managed and used responsibly, the free services Google offers can be of tremendous civic benefit. We’ve developed a tool called “Flu Trends”, which offers an early warning system for flu outbreaks based on the anonymous actions of millions of people searching for symptoms. Relief agencies depend on Google Earth images after natural disasters like tsunamis or hurricanes and Indian farmers leverage our topographical maps to help with flood management.

We're proud of our track record of protecting user privacy. We work hard to make sure our users understand what data we collect and how we use it, because we are committed to transparency and user choice. The important work of education is made more difficult by polemicists who abuse the truth. We are happy to debate our privacy record or policies anytime, but we'd rather that debate was based on fact not fiction.

Peter Fleischer, Google's Global Privacy Counsel


Silent Hunter said...

And what about your 'business' in CHINA, Peter?

How does that square with your "Do no evil" mantra?

Remember the Tiananmen Square massacre do you?

app said...

Wow, way to keep the tone of the conversation civil. (That was sarcasm.)

Scott Cleland said...

I must challenge Google's attempt to whitewash a poor record on Privacy.
I testified on Google's disrespect for privacy last year before the US House Internet Subcommittee and presented a detailed case study on Google's poor record on privacy -- see URL
Moreover, what characterizes Google on privacy and security issues is that Google simply opposes asking for permission -- see this URL for detailed evidence:
Scott Cleland Precursor LLC

Elboe said...

A rather ill-mannered response. Particularly the tasteless and rather graceless allegation that a respected MP such as David Davis would deliberately be dishonest and 'abuse' the truth.

Elboe said...

A rather ill-mannered response. Particularly the tasteless and rather graceless allegation that a respected MP such as David Davis would deliberately be dishonest and 'abuse' the truth.

Steve Clark said...

Maybe I'm reading a different blog posting; this seems to me to be a calm response to David Davies' shrill and unfounded comments. He's a politician - OK he likes to appear to be a maverick, but he's a politician nonetheless. Being a politician means craving attention. I think this posting calmly refutes his shrillness. I notice that none of the other people who have so far commented have pointed to factual inaccuracies within the posting.
Of course Google aren't perfect: neither are the Conservative Party, and neither is David Davies. Given a choice between trusting British politicians - of any political persuasion - and trusting Google, I'd take the latter like a shot, every time.

academia idiomas murcia said...

obama should look to google apps are like obamas new approach to medical insurance. the old school of doctors insurance companies are scared and dont want to lose their huge incomes derived from the status quo to newer ideas which might redirect money or even offer for less or free what doctors ans companies now get paid for.
Google offered a new approach to apps. free good quality apps that do the job instead of using costlier similar apps from other companies.Thers a price to pay in all gets info on its users which might or can be used for or agianst the user. Maybe obama should look to google for direction propaganda and ways to convince pple of the new ideas he has. medical protection is like an app.