Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team is not taking Privacy International’s accusation of poor privacy practices lying down. In a fiery and enthusiastic post on his private blog, Cutts claims that PI simply walked past companies that were handling privacy poorly, and focussed instead on a company that is doing something positive about the issue. However, Cutts tends to justify his position by pointing to companies that have done worse than Google as opposed to defending the accusations on their own merits, He cites, for example, the release by AOL of millions of raw search queries that lead to the identification of an AOL user. If this is the case, AOL indeed has some improvements to make, but their sloppiness does not make Google a model corporate citizen. And simply because Google is helping out young software programmers with real world experience, does not change the fact that Google’s software necessarily relies on significant and ongoing surveillance that must surely become more comprehensive as new and more personalised services are added.
Undoubtedly PI may have erred on the heavy-handed side when making their assessment of Google. In fact, their report stated that their findings would be seen as controversial. But Google is a big corporation and, rather then being thin-skinned and sensitive, would do well to take on board the concerns expressed in the report and work toward being extra-diligent in the handling of customers’ private information.