Privacy Doctrines Questioned as Google Learns More and More

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Six Online Privacy Reminders for Google

Six privacy principles Google seems to have forgotten.

Any time Google and its voracious appetite for data make headlines, as it did this week when the FCC fined the search giant in relation to a probe into its Street View service, it's bound to set off wide-ranging discussions about the state of personal privacy in the Internet age.

While interesting, this brain spin often has little to do specifically with your company, unless you have some weird passion for mapping every wireless network on the planet and just so happen to sniff a bunch of unencrypted emails in the process. However, the latest row over Big Bro Google, both in regards to Street View and its updated privacy policy, have brought public focus on a couple privacy doctrines that affect any business that gathers personal data about its customers.

During a round-table discussion for "PBS Newshour," George Washington University Professor of Law Jeffrey Rosen notes that the "third-party doctrine," a lynchpin of Internet analytics and marketing, has been called into question by a Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. and is already less broadly embraced in the EU. The doctrine - which loosely states that once you give your info to a company like Google for one purpose, it can use it for other purposes - is fundamental to behavioral modeling and other common Internet tactics (although we should note that specific laws, such as CAN-SPAM, limit some data re-use).

Another aspect of the third-party doctrine is also under challenge in regard to the EINSTEIN II cybersecurity proposal, as reported by Fierce Government IT. In this case, the doctrine has been extended to hold that consent to let a third-party view data nulls unreasonable search protections under the Fourth Amendment. But the ease with which the government (or Google) can dig for detailed personal data may bring that assumption under fire, as well.

It's a common refrain: In the NPR conversation, David Bennahum, the CEO of Punch Media, observes that data-gathering technology has simply outpaced privacy law, creating a gray area as to how much data collection is too much.

And regardless of how much data you choose to gather on your customers, you may soon need to prepare to purge it all on short notice. The EU is now considering a "right to be forgotten" under which Web users could, under circumstances yet to be defined, request that companies remove all data associated with them, even if they consented initially to share it. The policy is just part of the EU's ongoing focus on privacy (and probing Google) that may well create a substantially different regulatory climate than that to which U.S. businesses are accustom.

So, regardless of what happens with the Street View hubbub - which, despite the FCC's decision to drop after leveling a $25,000 fine for non-cooperation, is still in the courts and far from over - Google and other big companies' data-collection practices are making waves that affect all businesses.


Your best bet? Punch Media's Bennahum brings up the common theme of transparency: Let your customers know exactly what data you are collecting and exactly how you are going to use it. And you may need to be prepared to isolate and eliminate all that data, just in case somewhere down the road a customer asks you to.

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