This week should have seen a public relations triumph for Google. The company began offering a free e-mail service with 100 times as much storage as Yahoo’s $59.99 service. Instead the criticism has taken Google by surprise, as privacy advocates who had never before voiced criticism stepped forward. Google has previously responded to privacy concerns by saying, “we’re nice, trust us” or pointing users to the company’s mission statement of “do no evil”. Such trite sentiments didn’t work this time; even The Drudge Report piled in.
Google executives had ignored a fierce internal debate over the ethics of the service and on Wednesday afternoon rushed out a jokey April 1 press release, ostensibly to trump a New York Times scoop.
But it isn’t so much Google searching email that has caused the anxiety from privacy watchdogs this week, as the company’s confused retention policy. What will Google do with that data? Google’s cookie is an index for all your searches until 2038, and sits alongside an Orkut cookie that tells Google – or friendly law enforcement officials or marketeers – exactly who you are. Google’s Gmail will complete the picture, indexing private electronic discourse under the main Google search cookie.
“Once users register for Gmail, Google would be able to make that connection, if it chose to,” Pam Dixon, head of the World Privacy Forum told the Los Angeles Times. “And if Google ever compared the two sets of data there are some people who would be chilled and embarrassed.” Richard Smith, formerly at the Privacy Foundation pointed out that “Google kind of makes it easy to connect all the dots together.”