The digital behemoth, Google, and its relationship with issues concerning privacy has been a love-hate affair. Google is generally regarded as being very lax about user privacy and that has been the reason why Google has been heavily criticized on more than one occasion.
Google’s compliance with governmental agencies’ requests for user data has long been considered a symbol of a strong bond between the two parties. However, this love affair might be nearing its breakup.
The latest sign of the love affair turning sour is the recent news that the search engine giant, Google, has decided to challenge a demand by the United States government asking for data of users of Google and its affiliate services. The private information of Google’s users is being sought by the US government for a National security probe going on.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF, the stand taken by Google against the demands mentioned in the ‘National Security Letter’ is apparently an industry first. This is so because from the time National Security Letters were being issued in 2000, nearly 300,000 have been issued so far and only a handful of companies have challenged them.
The fact that National Security Letters give unspecified powers to governmental agents and authorities to monitor peoples’ activities, the stand taken by Google can prove to be the reason for the maintenance of privacy of millions and millions of internet users.
Figure 1: A Pictorial Representation of Worldwide, Country-wise Censorship Level
The challenge by Google could not have come at a better time as Google is already facing serious doubts and concerns from its European users for being too ‘information-friendly’ with the government.
Google’s image as being anti-privacy has been built up due to a number of instances in the past that have suggested Google of sharing information of users with governmental agencies.
In December 2009, Eric Shmidt, Google’s CEO, said in response to concerns raised on weak privacy of users that if they are fearful of particular information of their being shared with governmental agencies then they shouldn’t do it. Moreover, Eric Shmidt also said that Google needs to abide by the US Patriot Act and that entails sharing of information with the government.
Similarly, a report by Privacy International raised concerns about the location of Google’s massive servers in the US that can be used to extract all information of millions and millions of users and handed over to the US government.
There have been a number of privacy issues related to Google and its affiliate services like Google Docs, Google cookie policies, Google tracking users, Gmail information leaks, suspicions of Google collaborating with secret service agencies, Google Chrome keeping a check on user activities, Street View, Google Buzz, and so on and so forth. The point is that Google is far from being the ‘good guy’ when it comes to securing privacy of its users.
Therefore, it is a surprise for everyone that Google has decided to challenge the new requests by the US government of provision of user data. Is it just a publicity stunt or that Google is really placing the trust of its users ahead of its ties with governmental agencies? Only time can tell. Meanwhile, the privacy of the data of millions and millions of Google users is at the mercy of Google’s relationship status with data agencies. Let’s hope they break up!