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Apr 21, 2008

NEWS: Google going soft on its privacy pledge?

Google going soft on its privacy pledge?

According to an article in the Financial Times today, Google has reneged on a commitment to improve the way it manages consumer data in light of its DoubleClick acquisition. There are compelling reasons for Google's delay, as Eric Schmidt points out in the article, but there are even more compelling concerns that demand immediate action.

European regulators cut Google some slack based on its word that it was going to immediately look into ways to boost privacy. A year into that pledge, Google has done little, by its own admission:

The issue came to the fore last April with Google's announced plan to buy DoubleClick, an Internet company which delivers many of the ads consumers see online and which plants many of the cookies that sit on personal computers. The combination of Google's records of a consumer's Internet searches with DoubleClick's information from cookies prompted complaints that one company would hold extensive data about a large proportion of the world's Internet users.

Google fended off the outcry partly with a promise to use technology to minimize cookies' invasiveness...But speaking last week, Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer, said Google had yet to start substantial internal deliberations about how to deal with the issue..."What we've discovered about cookies is that every question leads to a one-hour conversation," said Schmidt.

Maybe Schmidt should use some of his 20 percent free time to work on the cookie question, as there arguably is no bigger issue for Google. The bigger and more powerful it becomes, the more the world is going to demand that it play by different rules. The more it wields Microsoft-like control, the more regulators and consumer advocates are going to demand that it constrain its behavior.

Google can't afford to dillydally on the cookie issue any longer. It needs to allay concerns now. Next time, it's doubtful that regulators will take it at its word.

Google Softening On Behavioral Targeting?

GoogleGoogle's against behavioral targeting. That's what the company told journalists in July, and it's one of the reasons why it's been able to stay out of the way of the backlash against the practice that's hit some of its other competitors, including AOL's Tacoda (TWX).

That may be changing.

The Financial Times is reporting that Google has yet to follow through on its earlier pledge to change the way tracking "cookies" work to make them less invasive. Google had made the promise after announcing its DoubleClick acquisition last year, as a sop to privacy advocates. Originally Google was going to use 'crumbled cookies' -- smaller pieces of personal data -- to do this.

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