Google vs. Privacy Commissioners Round 1

Google and a group of Information and Privacy Commissioners have been having an interesting set-to over the last couple of days. First, a group including Canada’s Privacy Commissioner and the UK’s Information Commissioner sent a letter to Google expressing concern about their inadequate privacy policies, especially with regard to new developments like Buzz, Google’s new answer to Facebook.

Then Google put up a post on its blog, unveiling a new tool with maps out various governments requests for censorship of Google’s internet services. Interestingly, it framed this by reference to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

So now we have two sets of bodies referring to different ‘human rights’ as the basis for their politics. Of course they are not incompatible. Google is right to highlight state intervention in consensual information-sharing as a threat, but equally the Privacy Commissioners are right to pull up Google for lax privacy-protection practices. The problem with Google is that it thinks it is at the leading edge of a revolution in openness and transparency (which not coincidentally will lead to most people storing their information in Google’s ‘cloud’), and the problem with the Privacy Commissioners is that they are not yet adapting fast-enough to the multiple and changing configurations of personal privacy and openness that are now emerging as they have to work with quite outdated data-protection laws.

This won’t be the end, but let’s hope it doesn’t get messy…