Google Privacy Dispute Heats Up

By | Feb 10, 2012

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is going to court to try and block changes to Google privacy policies. At stake: not only the legal framework for online privacy and security, but the future of big data and targeted advertising.

Another legal dispute involving Google has related implications: A German firm is suing Google to learn the identity of one or more advertisers selling counterfeit goods. For midsize firms and their IT managers, these two episodes help illuminate a complex, evolving privacy and information landscape.

Two Court Cases

Impending changes in Google privacy standards have drawn widespread attention, with multiple commentators snarking that Google has decided to be evil after all. As reported by Steven Musil at CNET, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is going beyond snark.

It has filed suit--not against Google itself, but against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The objective is to force the FTC to block the Google changes. The organization has had previous run-ins with Google. It described Gmail as "criminal" for scanning users' emails. But the European Union also asked Google to hold off on the new policy, a request that Google declined.

Meanwhile, Germany's Montblanc is posing a different type of challenge to Google privacy policies. According to Robin Wauters at TechCrunch, Montblanc is a long-established maker of luxury-market pens, watches, and other products. And they have been facing an ongoing struggle against counterfeiters, particularly ones operating on

Montblanc acknowledges that Google pushes back against counterfeiters, taking down their sites as soon as they are identified. But the counterfeiters pop back up just as quickly, and Montblanc is pushing Google to provide further information. Google claims it does not possess such detailed information and cannot provide it even though it too has an interest in shutting down counterfeiters.

Dimensions of Data and Privacy

These two court cases suggest that the arguments over data and privacy are more complex and textured than often reported in the popular media. At stake is not just the protection of individuals' privacy against intrusive firms seeking data to use for targeted advertising. In the Montblanc case, the company is seeking information about counterfeiters who have been stealing its good name. And the Electronic Privacy Information Center has been accused of having an animus against Google that led it to attack the popular Gmail service.

Midsized firms and their IT managers must navigate tricky waters in dealing with data privacy policy. Yes, companies involved in online advertising would like to use big data to target their ads more precisely. But they may also want to protect the confidentiality of their own data on the one hand, while protecting themselves against counterfeiters or unscrupulous rivals on the other.

Everyone wants more information, and everyone wants to protect their own information from prying eyes. Which makes data privacy and data security a complex, delicate environment.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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