Privacy a Google "blind spot"

A few years ago, I applied for an opening at Google and wound up interviewing for three or four different positions because I wasn’t the right person for any of the open positions, but they apparently kept thinking I was intriguing enough to pass along to interview for different positions.

I wound up not getting hired, almost certainly because they had many superior candidates. But I’ve always wondered whether my continual pressing on two issues put me on their blacklist. With several years' hindsight, it’s interesting Google has come around to my position on one of these but has not budged on the other.

Unprompted — and probably inappropriately for the positions I was interviewing for — I presented my interviewers with detailed ideas for integrating many Google tools (plus many GPS location-based extensions I envisioned) into a handheld device I called “Google Muse.” One interviewer objected on the grounds that Google is a software company, not a hardware company. Well, fast forward a few years, and Google has released the Nexus One. So I feel vindicated on that.

But my other issue — privacy, which I raised in every interview — remains a huge Google problem. Interviewers asked me about Google tools I use, and I confessed I avoided (and continue avoiding) things like Google Toolbar for privacy reasons. I don’t want Google (or any other corporation) inside my operating system. Well, several years later, “Privacy, complexity seen as Google blind spots”:

many Google products have raised red flags among privacy groups, because they often provide new ways for the company to collect information about users and customize advertising based on their behavior. Before Buzz, advocates had voiced concerns about Google’s search engine, Gmail, pending Google Books settlement and move into mobile advertising.

“The bottom line is, users should have meaningful control over their information,” said Kimberly Nguyen, consumer privacy counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

If Google doesn’t convince people it’s protecting their privacy, people like me won’t trust Google. That won’t matter to many, who will use Google’s services anyhow. Heck, most people still use Microsoft’s proprietary operating system. But Google may well find its ambitions thwarted if the tech vanguard, the Linux desktop community, shuns it. Many in this small but influential and growing community despise Microsoft and are inclined toward Google, but I doubt I’m alone in my distrust.

Posted by James on Sunday, February 21, 2010