Privacy International Ranks Google Last

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Watchdog group Privacy International has conducted an analysis of the privacy policies and practices of 20 leading online businesses, inclusing firms such as Skype, eBay, the BBC, Last.fm, Apple, Microsoft, and MySpace. The results? None of the companies earned green marks for their customer privacy policies or actions, and the organization has ranked online titan Google dead last in terms of its efforts to protect its users’ privacy.

“We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial,” Privacy International wrote in a release, “but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations. While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy.”

Privacy International assessed organizations’ privacy practices on 20 factors, including openness and transparency, data collection and processing, responsiveness, data retention, customer and user control, privacy enhancing/invading innovations, the fairness of gateways and authentications, the organizations’ ethical compass, administrative organization, and other details. Overall, Google was the only company ranked black, indicating, “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy,” but several companies were categorized as “substantial and comprehensive privacy threats,” including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Hi5, Reunion.com, Windows Live Space, and Yahoo. Only Wikipedia, LiveJournal, Last.fm, the BBC, and eBay were regarded as “generally privacy-aware,” although none were regarded as “privacy-friendly and enhancing.”

Privacy International cited many factors in its decision to rank Google last, including indefinite retention of customer information, retenion of search strings and query data for 18 to 24 months, tracking Google Toolbar users with unique cookies, and failing to give users ways to expunge records kept about their activities, queries, accounts, or user profiles.

For its part, Google says Privacy International’s conclusions are based on inaccurate assessments and misunderstandings of how its services operate. Privacy International in turn accuses Google of conducting a smear campaign against, and has posted an open letter responding alleged claims by Google that Privacy International reached its conclusions due to a conflict of interest.

The information released by Privacy International thusfar represents a first draft; the group plans to release a more detailed report in September.

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