Security Bytes

Jun 15 2007   10:21AM GMT

Google hostile to Privacy, AOL, Apple a ’substantial threat’ warns group

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt

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Privacy International, a privacy watchdog group released the interim results of a six month study of privacy practices of Internet based companies.

Ebay, Last.fm, LiveJournal did well in a review by the privacy watchdog group while Google, Facebook, Apple and AOL were identified as a substantial threat to consumer privacy.

Let’s start backwards because there’s no surprises on the sites that are identified as substantial threats to privacy.

What sites are privacy aware? Ebay was given fair marks. The online auction Website was given the thumbs up for its use of session only cookies and policy of sharing anonymous data of users. Online music streaming site Last.fm got good marks for its privacy policy and allowing users to register without an email address. The site sells license lists but not personal data. Blogging site LiveJournal was given good marks for its simple privacy policy and procedure for handling data security breaches.

There’s no big surprise on the one site marked as “hostile to privacy:” Google. The search engine giant has been on the hot seat over its privacy policy in recent months. It received the worst review by the group. It’s privacy policy is “vague, incomplete and possibly deceptive,” the group said. The document doesn’t explain the data processing elements or information flows.

Nonetheless Google is not happy with the review. Google has responded saying Privacy International has some ties to Microsoft. The privacy group strongly denies the accusation.

Among the Websites being called a substantial threat was social Website, Facebook. The site does not accept liability for security, according to the group. In 2005 a number of profiles were downloaded to prove weak security.

On data retention, Apple got a poor review. The vendor does not consider itself responsible for data on its forums, has a vague privacy policy and forces users to turn on cookies to use features on its Website. AOL lays out in its privacy policy that it collects a large amount of personal information of its users. The company tracks user movements and use of resources, monitors use of email, keeps track of a users surfing and search history and collects IP addresses. So why isn’t AOL hostile to privacy? Because it’s honest about its practices in its privacy policy.

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