Google, perhaps not for the first time, is exhibiting worrying symptoms of solipsism.
Solipsism, of course, is the belief that oneself alone (solus ipse) exists. To be a solipsist is to take a step beyond mere overweaning arrogance -- which acknowledges that there may be other points of view, but casually dismisses them. Google is behaving as though its users, and regulators, both in the United States and Europe, are phantoms -- illusions which can safely be ignored.
France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties tried to get Larry Page's attention with a letter setting out its concerns and asking Google to put its plans on hold until the relevant legal analyses were complete. The letter could hardly be clearer:
Our preliminary analysis shows that Google's new policy does not meet the requirements of the European Directive on Data Protection.
Emphasis in original. Mr Page, what you are doing is probably illegal. Is anyone listening?
The EU Justice Commissioner made it clear on BBC Radio that the French analysis is representative of European Community opinion:
Protection of personal data is a basic rule of the European Union. It is inscribed in the treaties. It is not an if, it is a must.
Hi, Google -- compliance isn't optional. Maybe Google doesn't tune in to BBC Radio, or doesn't believe these pesky European laws actually exist. But it's not just French bureaucrats. There has been a "global outcry." Japanese lawmakers are concerned. In the United States, the bipartisan National Association of Attorneys General tried the letter ploy:
On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products. Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their Web History to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail. Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their Search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts.
The Association has requested a meeting with Larry Page. Good luck with that. Fingers in ears, and whistling loudly, Google is deaf to all supplications. OK, not quite. It has "responded" to criticism, ironically by taking a page from the hapless playbook of the RIAA's disastrous spokesperson, Cary Sherman. Apparently, we all just don't get it:
The new policy doesn't change any existing privacy settings or how any personal information is shared outside of Google. We aren't collecting any new or additional information about users. We won't be selling your personal data.
OK. We know you aren't collecting additional data. What you are doing is taking data from different sources and attributing it to the same user account, and -- as the Attorneys General pointed out -- this compels the linkage of "diverse interests" and projects and communications and ideas, whether the users approve or not.
Furthermore, it's not about selling the data, it's about using the data to sell us stuff. It's about the data being stored -- securely? indefinitely? It's about collecting the data in the first place.
Maybe we'd be more inclined to cut Google some slack if this policy weren't being implemented a few days after the company was exposed driving a truck through Internet Explorer's privacy settings. We might also be more sympathetic if we weren't succumbing to a plague of unsolicited and unauthorized tracking by Google, Facebook, and the rest of the usual suspects.
Google, there's a real world out here. You might be about to bump into it.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution