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Google's Sundar Pichai talked about “destroying anonymity on the Internet”
-Reports from Tech Crunch
Google's Sundar Pichai faced an uncomfortable line of investigation during today's Chamber Antitrust Subcommittee hearing related to the acquisition of the DoubleClick adtech platform in 2007 and how it renounced an original promise to lawmakers and regulators that it would not (nor could not) ) merging DoubleClick data with Google account data - doing so automatically almost a decade later.
By linking the browsing data of Internet users, collected through the DoubleClick cookie, to Google accounts, it was possible to gather the user's identity points, email data (Gmail), search history, location data and so on (Google has already reduced privacy policies for separate products, to add all that activity) to its users' broader Internet browsing activity - broadly expanding its ability to create a profile and target people with behavioral ads.
Agency for Google users to prevent this massive invasion of privacy, there was none.
Representative Val Demings maintained that by combining data from DoubleClick cookies and data from Google accounts, Google had basically destroyed user privacy on the Internet. And - importantly, given the domestic antitrust scrutiny that the company now faces - this was only possible because of the market power that Google has accumulated.
"When Google proposed that merger alarms be triggered on access to the data that Google would have - specifically the ability to connect a user's personal identity to their browsing activity," said Demings, before zooming in to hammer Pichai at another technology giant that broke data privacy. promise.
“Google… has committed to Congress and antitrust agents that the deal would not reduce user privacy. The head of Google's legal adviser testified before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee that Google would not be able to merge this data. Even if he wanted to, given the contractual restrictions. But in June 2016, Google went ahead and merged that data anyway - effectively destroying anonymity on the Internet, ”she explained.
Demings then lobbied Pichai about whether he personally signed the privacy-hostile initiative since he became Google's CEO in 2015.
Pichai hesitated before attempting a bland answer - only to be interrupted by Demings pressing him again: "Did you accept the decision or not?"
"I - I reviewed all the important decisions we made at a high level," he said, after a micro pause.
Then he focused on looking for more comfortable territory, starting with Google’s usual marketing discourse - on how “he cares deeply about the privacy and security of our users”.
Demings was having none of that. The turnaround has allowed Google to combine a user's search and browsing history, location data and email information stored in Gmail, she said, saying it is "absolutely stunning".
She then referred to an email from a DoubleClick executive who had told the committee that "it was exactly the kind of privacy breach that users' founders previously worried would lead to a reaction."
“They did not hesitate in politics due to philosophical reasons. Which is Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] fundamentally, he doesn't want users to be associated with a cross-site cookie. They were also concerned about a privacy storm, as well as damage to the Google brand, ”she said, directly citing the email from the unidentified DoubleClick executive.
"So in 2007, Google's founders feared making this change because they knew it would bother their users - but in 2016 Google didn't seem to mind," continued Demings, before telling Pichai that what had changed between 2007 and 2016 is that Google has gained “enormous market power”.
"So while Google was concerned with user privacy in 2007, it didn't need it in 2016 anymore - do you agree that what has changed is Google gaining enormous market power?" she asked.
The alphabet and the Google CEO responded by asking for a chance to “explain” - and then presenting a list of controls that Google offers users so that they can try to narrow down how it tracks them, further claiming that it makes it “very easy ”for people to control what happens to their information. However, some EU data regulators have taken a very different view of Google's “transparency”.
"Today we make it very easy for users to control their data," said Pichai. “We've simplified their settings, they can enable or disable ad personalization - we've combined most activity settings into three groups. Users are reminded to do a privacy check. One billion users have already done so. "
Demings, looking impressed, interrupted him again, saying, “I'm concerned that Google's bait and switch with DoubleClick is part of a broader standard, in which Google buys companies for the purpose of inspecting Americans and, because of the dominance from Google, users have no choice but to surrender. ”
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Pichai denied this - beginning a response with the statement that "in general this is not true" before Demings echoed the statement: "So are you saying that more user data doesn't mean more money than Google can collect?"
This was easier for Pichai to dodge. “Most of the data we collect is to help users and provide personalized experiences back,” he replied, avoiding the main point that Google’s access to people's data linked their web browsing with Google IDs and Google activity. product. the tech giant generating massive profits, targeting them with scary ads, which in turn make up the vast majority of Alphabet's profits.
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