Friday, April 5, 2013

The Killing of Google Reader: Proof that Privacy Matters at Google?

Google announced last month that it was going to kill off Google Reader. According to the post, the reason that was given that there was a decline in the number of subscribers. For the past few years, Google has been consolidating its offerings and reducing the number of properties that it has out there. For example, it retired Google Wave, which was seen as a way to revolutionize the way people conversed with one another. The other trend in Google' s consolidation is to get its subscribers into its social network; Google Plus. So another theory is that Google killed Reader because it wants to drive more traffic to its social network - as they have done with things such as YouTube, Blogger, etc.

However, allthingsD reported that another factor that led to Google retiring reader was due to compliance with privacy. Citing "sources" the elimination of reader, "[w]asn’t just a matter of company culture and bigger priorities...Google is also trying to better orient itself so that it stops getting into trouble with repeated missteps around compliance issues, particularly privacy".

If what sources are saying are true, the factoring of privacy costs into its product releases represent a significant maturation from a privacy perspective. Google got in trouble with the FTC because it failed to comply with privacy procedures with Google Buzz and had to submit to biennial privacy audits for 20 years. In other words, Google can probably include the "kill decision" as "audit evidence" as proof that they are complying with their commitment to privacy.

So is this proof that the US overall approach to privacy creates a more privacy compliant nature than the one used in Canada? Although more research would be required to answer this question, we can contrast the proactive nature of Google with respect to privacy and how TJX reacted to its breach of privacy policy in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada's took issue with TJX's (which operates Winners in Canada) the use of driver's licenses during the returns process. In summary, TJX should not be collecting driver's license information because it has nothing to do with buying clothes, etc at the stores! However, instead of stopping the process, the company merely agreed to stop storing in an unencrypted format. In other words, they basically ignored PIPEDA and continued with business as usual.

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