Earlier this month Consumer Watchdog wrote the Justice Department to block Google's proposed advertising alliance with Yahoo based on these privacy concerns; an announcement about the deal is expected later this week. The letter notes that the introduction of Google's new browser, known as "Chrome," without new privacy protections, poses an unprecedented threat to consumers.
"Google's role is now unprecedented because the Internet goliath is no longer merely collecting some data about how we search and surf the web," said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court. "Its new browser and software are actually sending information from inside our computers to its servers. If Google won't solve its own privacy problems, the company must be prepared for regulators to put the brakes on its unprecedented growth. State Attorneys General need to take action to protect consumers' privacy and make sure that computer users have the ability to opt-out of Google's web and browse anonymously."
Consumer Watchdog spoke with Google's team last month about its concerns, but the company agreed to address only one of the smaller privacy problems uncovered in the video. Google claims users do not expect to be able to navigate the web anonymously, only to have anonymous moments, which is why Google does not have an easy to use privacy mode for its products. The consumer group's concerns center on creating a simple anonymizing button across Google's products and websites so that there is transparency and an easy opt-out for those who did not wish to share their private data. Google users can join the campaign and send a free message to the company by filling out an online form.
Most computer users do not focus on the huge amounts of data sent to Google's servers, Consumer Watchdog said. The introduction of Chrome, unless the privacy concerns are addressed seriously and quickly, could mark the end of real user control and choice online because:
- New asynchronous communications are occurring without users' full understanding, consent or control;
- Many Chrome features blur the distinction between the desktop and cloud computing, where a computer user's software, documents, data and personal information exist not on the consumer's hard drive but on Google's servers on the Internet. This creates confusion in the consumer's mind about the privacy and security of confidential information;
- Chrome's Incognito mode lulls consumers into a false sense of security that their actions are completely private and free from prying eyes when in fact they are not.
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