Three years ago, privacy advocates filed a class action lawsuit against Google for leaking users’ search queries and personal information to operators of websites to use in targeted advertising. Now the search engine giant has agreed to pay $8.5 million and alter its procedures to help better safeguard users’ personal information.
The $8.5 million will be divided up among seven non-profit privacy advocacy groups to be used for “educating the public” about the issue. Siliconbeat.com reports that among those groups are “the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, the World Privacy Forum, the MacArthur Foundation and AARP.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit “complained that the company was routinely leaking private information through so-called ‘referrer headers’ — or coding that lets a website operator know which page an Internet user was visiting immediately before coming to the operator’s site.”
The problem was that Google’s search engine routinely incorporated words from users’ search queries into the URL of the results page. If a user then clicked on the link to a website listed on the results page, the operator of that website would see the URL of the referring page – which in this case would be a URL that includes the user’s search terms. This theoretically could include personal or identifying information if the user had included that information in their search terms.
Google has since changed the way it shares users’ search queries and now encrypts the info allowing website programmers to use the info only if a member of Google analytics and logged in to see the information. Still, Google does not protect all such personal information.
Recently, President Obama touted Google as a model by which to re-imagine how Americans interact with government.
The President announced a new initiative called MyUSA (formerly MyGov) which he claims will allow federal benefit recipients to track the status of their applications “in real time, just like you can follow the location of a package all the way to your doorstep.”
There has been no statement from the President on how an American’s private information will be protected by this new system.
Google figured prominently in President Obama’s re-election campaign; since the election, that hand-in-hand relationship was highlighted when the President’s data mining team moved en masse from his campaign to join Google.