Google facing privacy backlash

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Google facing privacy backlash

Digital rights campaigners warn of weak policy.

Google has been sharply criticised by Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for its stance on user privacy, after Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said in an interview on CNBC that users should not expect search engines to safeguard their private data.

Asa Dotzler, Firefox marketing project co-ordinator at Mozilla, argued that the remarks indicate that Google does not value its users' privacy.

"There is no ambiguity, no 'out of context' here," he said in a blog post, adding that Microsoft's Bing has a better privacy policy than Google and advising users on how to switch Firefox's search from Google to Bing.

The latest data released by research firm comScore claims that Google is used for around 65 per cent of US web searches, while Bing is used for under 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, the EFF ridiculed Schmidt's remarks in a blog post, claiming that they are evidence that Google does not understand why privacy is important, and that they contrast with earlier comments by the company that privacy is important.

"A company that claims to care about privacy is not even concerned enough to understand basic lessons about privacy and why it's important on so many levels, from protection against shallow embarrassments to the preservation of freedom and human rights," said EFF activist Richard Esguerra.

"Google, governments and technologists need to understand more broadly that ignoring privacy protections in the innovations we incorporate into our lives not only invites invasions of our personal space and comfort, but opens the door to future abuses of power."

Other commentators have also described Schmidt as hypocritical because he once blackballed reporters from US news group CNET when it published a story containing his personal information obtained from a Google search.

Schmidt was discussing user privacy after being asked by CNBC whether people should be treating Google as a "trusted friend".

"I think judgement matters. If you have something you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time," Schmidt said.

"We are all subject in the US to the Patriot Act, and it is possible that that information will be made available to the authorities."

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