Google's "cloudy" privacy questioned: EPIC fail?

In Thursday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches privacy activists get all hot under the collar over Google's cloud computing tentacles. Not to mention the subtlest Trek joke ever...

Sharon Gaudin reports:

Google logo
A privacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google Inc.'s cloud computing services, including the popular Gmail hosted e-mail service, Google Docs and the Picasa photo sharing service, adequately protect users privacy.

The complaint by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), filed on Tuesday with the FTC ... requests that the FTC look into whether security safeguards in the Google cloud products can sufficiently protect personal information. The group is also looking to force Google to make its security policies more transparent, and to revise its terms of service in order to meet its "obligations" to protect user information ... [and] to force Google to pay $5 million to help fund security research.
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Cade Metz addz:

An influential net watchdog has urged the US Federal Trade Commission to shut down Google's so-called cloud computing services ... EPIC's Marc Rotenberg ... points out that EPIC had successful with a similar FTC petition it filed over Microsoft's infamous Passport service, the "single sign-on" system now known as Windows Live ID.

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The petition argues that Google's terms of service "disavow any warranty or any liability for harm that result from Google’s negligence, recklessness, malintent, or even purposeful disregard of existing legal obligations to protect the privacy and security of user data."
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Preston Gralla has more:

The complaint comes as a result of an incident in which people's private documents stored on Google Docs were shared with other users without their permission on March 7. EPIC, though, says that the security breach was far from isolated, and claims it's part of an ongoing pattern at Google. It says that Google's security is inadequate, and that Google misleads people into believing that data stored with Google is secure.

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The complaint, available here, pulls no punches ... details a series of what it calls security breaches ... goes on to say that Google's inadequate security is an unfair business practice and a deceptive business practice.
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But Mike Masnick scoffs:

I think privacy is a very important issue that often is given short-shrift... but I've never been able to understand some of the positions staked out by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), who seems to have decided long ago that, even if people are making a conscious choice, anything that puts their privacy at risk is downright evil and must be stopped. When Google first launched Gmail back in 2004, EPIC went ballistic saying that it needed to be shut down as a privacy violation. Most people responded by getting Gmail accounts as quickly as they could.

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This all seems designed to get EPIC attention rather than to actually help consumers.
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And Frank Reed waxes sarcastic:

Apparently Google has been less than perfect and it has drawn the ire of an online privacy group.

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I am not a Google apologist by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I would like to see some more competition in the marketplace. The fact of the matter is though that considering the ridiculous amount of data they handle they do a pretty good job.

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Why is there a need to take up a government agency’s time with something that is not even close to a regular occurrence? Why couldn’t the folks at EPIC just do some press releases around this and look to address it with Google directly?
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And finally...

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

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