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Will Obama's Privacy Bill Protect Us from Google?


In the aftermath of privacy breaches and consumer outrage, the Obama administration has introduced the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

According to the Associated Press, the bill includes privacy protections with “voluntary but enforceable rules.” Administration officials are urging tech companies and consumer groups to “jointly craft new protections,” which would be voluntary (initially, at least). However, those who agree to the terms and violate them could be penalized.

Meanwhile, CNET reports that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) and AOL (NYSE: AOL) are committed to working with the Do Not Track technology that is slated to be implemented in major Web browser later this year. With this technology, consumers will reportedly have the option to limit how much information advertisers can retrieve from their online activity.

This is an interesting turn of events considering the controversy Google sparked earlier this month when it was revealed that the search engine giant had bypassed the privacy settings in two browsers – Safari and Internet Explorer. Google has tried to make excuses for the claim (the latter of which was made by none other than Microsoft, the developer of Internet Explorer). But whether or not Google is truly guilty, this isn't the first time the company has entered the spotlight for invading users' privacy.

Thus, it's hard not to question Google's real intentions with regard to the Do Not Track technology. Is the company's support an honest gesture or merely a PR stunt to distract consumers from the plethora of negative media headlines?

The fact of the matter is that Google earns billions of dollars in ad revenue by using a host of tracking and identification tools. Something tells me that the company is (to put it lightly) too smart to fully support any venture that could reduce its profits. Knowing Google, it probably has a backup plan.

If so, it's possible that the company is implementing that “plan” as we speak. With millions of consumers switching to Chrome each year, it wouldn't be that hard for Google to support Do Not Track in one realm (ex: by blocking cookies) while circumventing the technology in some other way. It might not even be that devious. For example, Google could argue that if a user sets a default location in Google Maps, the user has essentially agreed to provide that information for advertising purposes. But most users don't really think of it that way; they set their location out of convenience, not because they were inviting Google into their world.

Unfortunately for users, it doesn't really matter if Google intends to support Do Not Track or the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” because cookies and other tracking methods aren't going anywhere. Many websites and web-based services insist that we use (“accept”) cookies; otherwise, we cannot proceed. This is their semi-legitimate way of forcing us into accepting a feature that can be used to track where we are, which websites we visit, which items we purchase, and everything else we do with our devices. And every time giant corporations swear they'll play nice and stop invading our privacy, we discover otherwise.

Since the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” is merely a proposal (which, according to the Associated Press, favors a “multi-stakeholder approach that has hints of self-regulation” since actual legislation and traditional regulation would take longer to implement), tech companies don't have much to worry about at this time. But maybe they should take action anyway.

After all, consumers were there for Google and other tech giants in the battle against SOPA. Isn't it time for them to return the favor?

Follow me @LouisBedigian

Posted-In: Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Do Not Track Google ObamaNews Politics Tech General Best of Benzinga


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