Google Called 'Hostile to Privacy'

Google is being taken to task by a UK-based privacy group over its apparent lack of a commitment to the privacy of its users. However, the company is doing what it can do discredit the report.

Privacy International said Saturday that the Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine had the lowest possible grade of any of the 22 online companies it surveyed, a level which it called "comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy."

The group said in the report that it knew that putting Google at the bottom would stir up controversy, but it said through its research no other company came close to "achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy."

Although nobody attained the highest level of privacy protection, BBC, eBay Inc., Last.fm, LiveJournal.com, and Wikipedia.com all received the second highest rating, "Generally privacy-aware but in need of improvement."

Several companies and services were only a step ahead of Google, having "substantial and comprehensive privacy threats." Those companies were AOL, Apple, Facebook, Hi5, Reunion.com, Windows Live Spaces, and Yahoo.

Microsoft received an "orange" rating, standing for "serious lapses in privacy practices." While PI acknowledged some might find the rating arguable, the organization said the company had made significant strides to improve its commitment to user privacy.

Concerns over user privacy are nothing new to Google. Last month, the EU said it would investigate the company's user data retention practices, saying it could run afoul of the bloc's laws.

Google did not comment too much publicly over the weekend, only complaining that the report was full of inaccuracies and that PI did not contact Google before the report was released.

However, PI claims that the company is organizing a coordinated smear campaign against the company. In a open letter to CEO Eric Schmidt, the group said that two European journalists had told PI that Google was saying the organization had a conflict of interest surrounding Microsoft.

"According to our sources, your representative or representatives made particular reference to one member of our 70-member international Advisory Board. This man is a current employee of Microsoft," PI Director Simon Daviess aid.

"I can confirm that he joined our Advisory Board well before he was headhunted by Microsoft," he continued.

Google had no immediate response to PI's latest claims.

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