The 7.30 program does a story on google’s breach of privacy

September 9, 2013 |

Last week the 7.30 program did a piece on Google and privacy.  Or the lack of it with Google.  Google has had a long and inglorious tradition or prefering data harvesting over privacy considerations.  This story was caught in August in  Google: Non-Gmail Users Have No Legitimate Expectation of Privacy (Updated). Microsoft has used Google’s enthusiasm for data collection as a point of differentiation (see  Microsoft target Gmail in new privacy campaign against Google).

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The 425 million customers who signed up for Google’s Gmail service apparently assumed their emails were private.

That was until a US class action exposed the internet giant for violating users’ privacy by trawling their emails to gather data which it uses for targeted advertising to boost its revenue.

Defending the case, Google asserted that it has the right to read its customers emails and that people sending to Gmail accounts also have no legitimate expectation of privacy.

The case revealed that Google is amassing vast amounts of private information gleaned from the internet, and as Greg Hoy reports, it’s not alone.

GREG HOY, REPORTER: It’s a matrix in the making. As Australians en masse surf the net, check their mail or messages, play games, shop, apply for jobs, rent houses or socialise with friends, they are leaving a trail of digital data that is a gold mine to global data mining and broking companies like Acxiom.

ACXIOM CORPORATE VIDEO (male voiceover): No matter how good your data currently is, imagine it better. Imagine knowing the mum you’ve targeted is a minivan buyer just became an empty-nester with new car-buying preferences.

DAVID VAILE, DEPUTY CHAIR, AUST. PRIVACY FOUNDATION: Most people aren’t really aware that this massive global business is operating from offshore and coming here, hoovering up information about you and planting tracking devices on your computer and essentially not being required to reveal its presence, not to get your permission, not to tell you what’s going on and essentially being allowed to operate in secrecy.

TIMOTHY PILGRIM, AUST. PRIVACY COMMISSIONER: People often say that privacy’s dead and we should all get over it.

GREG HOY: Australia’s Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim says more users need to learn how to protect themselves.

TIMOTHY PILGRIM: I’m concerned that 50 per cent of the organisations we examined in terms of their privacy policies online had overly complex policies that were very difficult for people to understand and hard for them to find out exactly what was happening to their personal information.

GREG HOY: The deputy chairman of Australia’s Privacy Foundation and head of the Uni of NSW Cyberspace Law Centre David Vaile believes some of the most insidious data mining is done by the internet giants.

DAVID VAILE: Google and Facebook probably together represent the sort of the two leaders in the race to the bottom here. The price basically is your privacy, your confidentiality, your information security and the knowledge of what’s going on inside your head.

GREG HOY: With its network of enormous data centres around the globe, Google processes around 3.3 billion web searches a day, racks of powerful computers record usage patterns of all users for the company to compile what those like digital privacy advisor Stephen Wilson call a psychographic profile of individuals.

STEPHEN WILSON, MD, LOCKSTEP GROUP: Information is their lifeblood. Everything they do is about innovatively exploiting information in all sorts of ways. And then, today most of their revenue comes from predicting people’s behaviours and then being able to do really good targeted direct marketing and direct advertising. People using these services need to remember that there’s really no such thing as a free lunch.

GREG HOY: Already worth $200 billion, Google is rapidly diversifying. Google Maps and Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google’s huge android operating system for mobile phones. The list is 70 services long and growing fast. Google Glasses are on the way, voice-activated for easy internet connectivity. So what is Google’s attitude to the privacy of those who use such services?

STEPHEN WILSON: Google last year broke down all of the internal firewalls between their businesses. All of the information that they’ve collected about people in those different silos is now linked and they printed a new privacy policy and now we have one big matrix of information.

GREG HOY: What really riled the critics was the recent revelation in a US class action that Google screens incoming emails, or Gmails, for personal information that could help it in its targeted advertising. The company claims that those who send emails to its 450 Gmail users have no legitimate expectation of privacy.

Google wouldn’t be interviewed, but said it takes its users’ privacy and security very seriously.

GOOGLE CORPORATE VIDEO (female voiceover): You can count on one simplified policy that explains our privacy commitment to you. We’ll treat you as a single user across all of our products, combining information you’ve provided from one service with information from the others.

STEPHEN WILSON: People using Gmail and Google Maps and Search, they really need to understand that Google makes their money out of protecting people’s interests from being able to measure, and if you like, surveil – there’s a level of surveillance happening here – and then they’ll serve up advertising or they’ll broker advertising that then appeals to people whose interests have been revealed through their Gmail.

GREG HOY: Google has conceded that it also gives its customers’ data to government agencies like America’s National Security Agency.

DAVID VAILE: And the whole thing put together generates a very large network of largely invisible spying.

GREG HOY: Many Australians are now asking if the same thing is happening here.

DAVID VAILE: We’ve got a privacy act that gives an appearance of some sort of protection but is as much a tissue of exemptions and loopholes and defences and let-outs for those wanting to do all sorts of things that were often considered intrusive in the past.

TIMOTHY PILGRIM: Australia has a fairly robust privacy framework. These are very similar to different laws that exist in a number of countries around the world.

GREG HOY: Others disagree and even the regulator says reform of Australia’s Privacy Act due next year will give his office much-needed teeth to take action, implying those like Google will face tougher regulations.

TIMOTHY PILGRIM: We’ll put a requirement on organisations that they must at every opportunity, whenever they market to us, give us an easy opportunity to opt out of receiving that marketing, and it’s also going to put into place a requirement that if you want to know where they got your personal information from, an organisation is going to be required by law to tell you.

LEIGH SALES: Greg Hoy there.

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