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Wednesday, 04 July 2018 12:06

When Google talks about privacy, one can't help but laugh


When Google, the company that slurps up data from every possible device through its applications using every trick in the book to avoid scrutiny, writes about user privacy, you simply cannot help but laugh cynically.

More so, when the post in question comes from someone who has the designation "director, Security, Trust, & Privacy, Google Cloud". It sounds more than just a little Orwellian – and yet some websites have actually taken this post seriously!

Suzanne Frey's post was in response to a detailed article in The Wall Street Journal with the headline Tech’s ‘Dirty Secret’: The App Developers Sifting Through Your Gmail. iTWire has a version of it here.

Staff at Google have an aversion to talking to journalists for the simple reason that one question leads to another and the conversation cannot be controlled. Given that, Google only communicates in writing. Not that it can be called communication, because it often avoids the point and just spins.

Accordingly, Frey claims that Google only makes it possible for other developers to "integrate" with Gmail — note the word, not "use your email" which is what it really is — in order to give the customer options "around how you access and use your email".

One would have thought that using email is pretty straightforward — email, incidentally, predates Google by more than a few decades — but Google wants to "improve the customer experience". If the company left things alone, we would be much better off online – but then where would the billions come from so co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin can indulge themselves?

Frey writes: "We continuously work to vet developers and their apps that integrate with Gmail before we open them for general access, and we give both enterprise admins and individual consumers transparency and control over how their data is used."

In other words, we are not the cowboys we are painted out to be, we are bothered about your privacy. At this point, I had to stop writing and just let the laughter out. Who is going to believe this garbage?

Google has a number of controls buried deep in Gmail which take an eternity to find. Much like Microsoft and its Windows operating system, these are fine-grained access controls that if used properly would limit the data slurping. But only to a point, since it has been found on numerous occasions in the past that a control, when ticked, does not do what it claims to.

Neither Google nor its parent company, Alphabet, believe in making things secure and safe by default. It is left up to users, knowing full well that the average user is an iidot when it comes to using software of any kind.

There are two other points which Frey makes which need to be highlighted. "In order to pass our review process, non-Google apps must meet two key requirements:

"Accurately represent themselves: Apps should not misrepresent their identity and must be clear about how they are using your data. Apps cannot pose as one thing and do another, and must have clear and prominent privacy disclosures.

"Only request relevant data: Apps should ask only for the data they need for their specific function — nothing more — and be clear about how they are using it."

Now anyone who has used an Android device knows that this is baloney of a very high order. As is the following heading in Frey's Orwellian post: "You control your data".

I'll leave it at that. I can't continue as I am beginning to get stitches.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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