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Google Feels the Privacy Heat as Summer Rolls On

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Unread 07.11.08, 08:49 AM
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Google Feels the Privacy Heat as Summer Rolls On

Back from a week off blogging, and it's interesting that in the short time away (well, it felt short, and I believe those in the United States had a pretty big holiday weekend) Google is roasting ever so slowly over that blazing hibachi of privacy concerns and ... childcare costs bordering on larceny?

Seriously, I have to weigh in on a couple things that came to pass heading into the Independence Day weekend. It was around midnight in Chianti, Italy, July 4 when I stumbled across this post from Google's Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience.

I started reading it, wondering where the heck it was going with all of the numbers (new Fibonacci sequence?) and I would have stopped reading except that, well, Mayer has a pretty big job at Google. My attention snapped back to the text when I got to paragraph three and read, "today we're making a homepage change by adding a link to our privacy overview and policies."

The gist is that Google bowed to the privacy advocates who wrung their hands that Google, the world's most popular search engine, didn't include a link to its privacy position on its front page.

To be fair, it wasn't just pundits and privacy fanatics; the move was inevitable because of the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003, which requires the operator of a commercial Web site that collects personal information to link to its privacy policy from its home page. Google was going to do this; it was just a matter of when.

To this point Google had earnestly argued it didn't want to clog up its page. Yet, as of July 3, the company made its privacy policy available on the front door via a link to the word "privacy." Google's Mayer's post was designed to explain this but nearly lost readers in its wordy history lesson.

There is a certain irony at play here in Mayer's declaration of transparency; you wouldn't think it's possible, but in a blog post on being forthcoming about privacy, Mayer manages to virtually obfuscate the important message in a history lesson about Google's front page.

The headline of the post says nothing about the link change, nor does the first or second paragraph. No, gentle readers, you have to force your eyes to the third paragraph to learn the deal. Is this a sign of Google's arrogance, or just a poorly written blog post? Who is to say?

In the end, the advocates and lawmakers got what they wanted and Google, like any curmudgeonly company reluctant to change its precious style policies and procedures, disclosed its privacy link change with a child's petulance.

Also, while I was doing my best Mario Andretti impression on the harrowing backroads of central Italy, a judge in the Viacom vs. Google-YouTube copyright infringement suit July 2 ordered Google to turn over to Viacom records of which users watched which videos on YouTube.

This means Google will have to turn over IP addresses and log-in names for millions of registered YouTube users, who in aggregate dump some 10 million hours worth of video footage onto the site per hour.

This officially puts Google between a rock and hard place. On one hand, it has to comply with lawmakers' decisions. On the other hand, it wants to protect its users' privacy. How to do both? I'm not sure.

It looks like Google will have to cough this information up and deal with the privacy backlash later. People will moan on YouTube message boards, but let's be real -- they won't stop using the service.
It's free, it's very viral and you can pretty much put anything on it for at least an hour or two. It's hard to compete with that kind of freedom.

Finally, and this doesn't have to do with privacy, but what is Google thinking nearly doubling childcare costs?

Far too late (it seems Sergey Brin is the one being characterized as Mr. Insensitive here), the company realized this is a extravagant expense for workers that is costing the company too much money. Google Blogoscoped's Philipp Lenssen fishes out comments from ex-Googlers in this post.

What's next? Sending Googlers' adolescents to prep school and college? No, in a flagging economy it is inevitable that even the strongest companies feel the spending pinch.

Despite the $17 billion per year in online advertising sales, the growing expenditures of employee salaries, new investments ($500 million for WiMax) and all of the R&D make it hard for Google to keep coughing up perks and amenities. For all those who remember the 2000-01 dot-com recession, the free massages and lunches were the first to go.

Super-quality childcare costs super-much and Google realized it was losing money on it ,so it upped the cost to keep an even keel. The company should have created the program with the foresight that so many of its worker bees would bring their brood into the Google Kinderplex.

Just as Brin has no sympathy for the parents, I have no sympathy for Google's shortsightedness on all of its overspending on perks. The parents and their children are the unfortunate collateral damage.

I can almost hear Facebook and other Google rivals implementing super-good, lower-cost childcare plans to woo dissatisfied Googlers.

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Posted by Clint Boulton on July 8, 2008 12:31 PM
Boren's Laws of the Bureaucracy: 1. When in doubt, mumble. 2. When in trouble, delegate. 3. When in charge, ponder.
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