Google has the worst privacy record of all the major internet companies, according to a new study.The research, conducted by the campaigning group Privacy International, found that the online giant had a “hostile approach to privacy” and a comprehensive view to consumer surveillance.
The six-month investigation, which assessed and ranked the internet service firms by how they handle personal data, showed Google does not consider visited IP addresses as personal information and does not believe that it collects sensitive data.
The privacy watchdog said Google topped the list of the key internet-based companies with the worst privacy practices because it did little to protect its users.
AOL, Apple, Facebook, Hi5, Reunion.com, Windows Live Space and Yahoo! all fell into the second worst category, posing a “substantial and comprehensive threat to privacy”, according to the report.
Microsoft finished one category lower with serious flaws in its privacy practices, as did YouTube. Auctioning site, eBay, was described in the report as “generally privacy aware”, as were the BBC and online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. None of the 20 online companies surveyed got a “privacy friendly” rating.
“We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial,” the watchdog said in the report. “But throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organisations. None comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy.”
The group said that Google’s privacy failures include: retaining large quantities of user information, often for an unstated or indefinite length of time and without an opportunity to delete or withdraw it; failing to follow generally accepted privacy practices and elements of EU data protection law, and logging search queries in a way that makes them personally identifiable.
“We have witnessed an attitude to privacy within Google that, at its most blatant, is hostile and, at its most benign is ambivalent,” the report continued.
However, Privacy International did acknowledge that Google’s ranking is in part due to the company’s market dominance, the sheer size of its user base and the diversity and specificity of Google’s product range, but stressed that this did not excuse its privacy record.
“We are disappointed with Privacy International’s report, which is based on numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services,” a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. “We recognise that user trust is central to our business and we aggressively protect our users’ privacy.”