October 27, 2010

Google Vows To Build Stronger Privacy Controls

A Google senior executive said Tuesday that the Internet search company is "building stronger controls" to safeguard privacy after it admitted to accidentally collecting personal data around the world with its Google Street View program.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, told reporters at an Internet security meeting he was "puzzled" that users had not utilized privacy controls made available on the site months ago, and Google was now trying to improve them.

Fleischer said that Google is looking to construct a "privacy design document" to bar any abuses of user information.

Google acknowledged Friday in a blog that its "Street View" cars inadvertently collected more personal data than previously thought, which could lead to further investigation.

The breach was first discovered by German authorities, and Canada's privacy officials charged Google with violating the rights of thousands of Canadians.

Fleischer said other countries had also looked into the case and had dismissed any wrongdoing, citing Spain and New Zealand as examples.

He said Google had previously warned of the possibility of unintentional gathering of information, referring to the company's admission in May that its Street View cars had collected data from unsecured wireless networks in more than 30 countries.

The data gathered was generally limited to fragments of unencrypted data because the cars collecting it were always in motion and their wireless equipment automatically changed channels about five times a second, Google has said.

Google will now "take a look at all our privacy policies to strengthen them, to learn the lessons of that mistake and to reduce the chances of something like that ever happening again," said Fleischer.

Fleischer said that only one in seven Google users opt to change privacy and preference settings on the site. "I am puzzled why more people don't use more of the privacy controls."

He wondered whether "people feel comfortable with the status quo" or if the application needed improvements to make it easier to access.

Despite the "endless debates" about leaked IP addresses, Fleischer said, "maybe the average user is not really that focused on it."


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