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Both Sides Agree: You Don't Have Privacy Rights

How Europe's Fight with Google Over Privacy Ignores Real Privacy

 

Last week the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom fired a warning shot at Google and it appears they're reloading the gun with real ammunition.

This past December, about a year after the Internet behemoth announced a new privacy policy, a working group of representatives from these countries called the policy grossly abusive of people's privacy and said Google had four months to bring itself into compliance with European law. Google dismissed the ultimatum: "Our privacy policy," it said, "respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services." The European countries response was that they will take actions, based on their national laws and in coodination with each other, by the Fall.

These government/corporation tiffs are frequent and their rhetorical fire normally turns into quickly dissipated smoke. This one could be different. It comes at a time when the world's powerful are trying to decide how much privacy we people will have and what the term privacy actually means, and this squabble's outcome will affect that and, of course, our freedom. That alone makes it worth watching.

But there's something deeper here that transcends this conflict. Privacy is, in fact, a core component of democracy and any infringement on complete privacy is an obscene attack on the possibility of having a free and democratic society. As important as the outcome of this show-down might be, the most important and frightening development is that it's taking place at all.

Google Maps and Eric SchmidtGoogle Maps and Eric Schmidt

The political shoot-out began a year ago when Google announced that it was unifying about 60 privacy policy agreements, covering its myriad services, into one big one. The company explained that lumping together these "agreements" (the things you're asked to read before pressing the "I Accept" button on a website) was a matter of efficiency and transparency. There's a logic to that: how many privacy policies have you read on the Internet? One would assume that if you don't read one, you can hardly be expected to read 60.

That, however, is a corporate shell game. Google made this move not to make our reading easier but to make gathering information about us more efficient. Google is a marketing company and nothing makes a marketing company more powerful and valuable to advertisers than having pertinent information on hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Its privacy policy is fitted to that purpose. It says that, once you sign up and begin using these services as an identified user, you give up that right of refusal. So, because people don't read that privacy policy, they don't realize that it effectively eliminates their privacy.

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