Google: Privacy vs. Open Government

As Google CEO Eric Schmidt has repeatedly said, the goal of his company is nothing less than to index all of the world’s information and make it available to anyone with an Internet connection. It is a lofty, even visionary goal that already has begun reshaping how we look at (and look up) information.

But as George Orwell might have said, had he written “Server Farm,” not all information is created equal. In its relentless, Borg-like pursuit of information, Google is increasingly handling and indexing vast quantities of personal information that all too easily can be used to commit identity theft and other modern data crimes.

The announcement this week that Google has struck deals with four states to assist them in providing more effective searches for public records and other online state information has only heightened those concerns.

‘Cradle-to-Grave Data Mining’

At the Center for Digital Democracy, founder and CEO Jeff Chester has been tracking the privacy implications of Google’s growth. “My concern about all of this,” Chester said, “is that to the extent that Google can match up public records with other user data that goes into advertising targeting programs, that’s a problem.”

Chester said that as more and more data is bundled together, companies such as Google will be able to create “very sophisticated and dangerous marketing schemes.”

“Google has the ambition to create and release the most powerful advertising tools ever,” Chester declared. “As the state Web site search program expands, Google will know every public action you’ve done — weddings, divorces, house purchases and sales, bankruptcies, etc. Google likely will become your personal cradle-to-grave data mining company.”

In Chester’s opinion, what is needed are stronger privacy laws in the United States that require a company such as Google to get an individual’s permission before indexing his or her personal information, even if…

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