Google Privacy Practices Blasted

Consumer Watchdog, a group that has been a sharp critic of Google's privacy practices in the past, is at it once again.

The Santa Monica, California consumer advocacy group has taken out an ad on a 540-square-foot Jumbotron digital display in New York's Time Square, which it is using to promote an animated video on YouTube that depicts Google CEO Eric Schmidt as an ice cream truck driver secretly spying on children.

The 15-second plug is scheduled to air 36 times a day through Oct. 15 and is designed to highlight Google's "tone-deafness to privacy," said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog.

The video, titled "Don't Be Evil?" was spurred by what the group claims is Google's disregard for privacy issues as evidenced by its collection of personal data through its Street View cars and its decision to make private Gmail contacts publicly available on its social networking application Buzz .

By satirizing Schmidt in one of the busiest public squares in the nation, Consumer Watchdog also hopes to draw attention to the broader need for Google and others to stop gathering personal information without user consent, Simpson said.

The goal is to raise public awareness for the need for an online 'Do Not Track Me' list that would work in a manner similar to the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call list, he said.

"There seems to be a great demand among the population for serious and meaningful privacy controls," against online tracking, Simpson said. There also appears to be a growing receptiveness within Congress for such legislation, he said.

Illustration: Lou Beach
According to Consumer Watchdog, a poll that was conducted on its behalf by Grove Insight, showed that 80% of Americans support a Do Not Track Me List, while 86% favored options that would allow them to stop anyone from tracking their online searches and purchases.

Google officials have downplayed Consumer Watchdog's criticism against the company as being unfair and attention-seeking.

In a brief statemenB, a Google spokesman dismissed Consumer Watchdog's campaign.

"We like ice cream as much as anyone, but we like privacy even more," the spokesman said, "That's why we provide tools for users to control their privacy online, like Google Dashboard, Ads Preferences Manager, Chrome incognito mode and 'off the record' Gmail chat." All of these tools can be accessed by users at www.google.com/privacy , he added.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com .

Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.

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