As previously discussed, Microsoft (MSFT) is reportedly lobbying fiercely to block or delay the Google-DoubleClick merger. Based on a long list of questions submitted to Google by an opponent of the merger, Rep. Joe Barton, we suspect it may have belatedly had some success.
As reported by CNET, Searchblog, and others, Rep. Barton has suddenly come out swinging against Google, demanding answers to 24 sophisticated questions about how Google stores and uses information. (Questions below, courtesy CNET). These questions are not typical Congressional polemic (“I am shocked, shocked…”). Rather, they form a careful, detailed interrogation that hits Google right where it lives.
We don’t mean to insult Rep. Barton’s digital sophistication, but we doubt that he and his aides developed these questions independently. The question, therefore, is who helped? Our guess? Directly or indirectly, Microsoft…
As you read through the questions, you will realise that you want to know the answer to just about every one. You will also realise that, for obvious reasons, Google will never answer these questions unless it is forced to do so. The responses would not only be interesting and important to privacy advocates, they would be interesting and important to Google’s users, partners, and, most importantly, competitors.
What will Google do?
We suspect it will use every means possible to avoid answering these questions. If Google were actually forced to answer the questions as a merger condition, we suspect it might even call off the merger.
We also suspect that Google’s lawyers will immediately comb through Rep Barton’s donor records to find any traces of Microsoft or its lobbyists. We assume both Barton and Microsoft are too smart to have left any, but you never know.
Now that the questions are public, we doubt even a “conflict of interest” scandal will get Google off the hook for answering them…until enough time has passed that people no longer care. So Google’s best strategy from here is probably to smile and delay, delay, delay.
REP BARTON’S QUESTIONS FOR GOOGLE (Full List at CNET)
1. Please describe Google’s retention policy with respect to the following data. Include in your response a description of the type of data retained (for example, URL, Internet Protocol [IP] address, date, time of connectivity); the length of time the data is retained; where the data is retained; who has access to the retained data; and how the data is removed, deleted, or anonymized once the retention period lapses.
a. Search queries on Google search;
b. Search queries on Google maps;
c. Search queries on Google news;
d. Search queries on Google images;
e. Email sent, received, or drafted on Gmail;
f. Information or data collected or retained through a website’s use of Google Analytics;
g. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Google Desktop Search, including the Google Desktop Search feature, Search Across Computers;
h. Google Maps for Mobile;
i. Google Web History Program for registered Google users/Google users with sign-in accounts;
j. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Picasa;
k. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Calendar;
2. Please explain how Google uses the information or data described in Question 1(a) – (l), including, but not limited to, the following uses: perfecting Google’s search algorithm; operating Google’s advertising programs such as AdWords and AdSense; and research or analysis of user activity on www.google.com.
3. Please explain the need to retain collected information for the length of time described in your response to Question 1.
4. Please explain how Google uses the information or data described in Question 1(a) – (1), or any additional data, to drive or target advertisements to individual users’ computers.
5. In particular, please explain whether Google Maps directs advertisements to IP addresses based on that user’s Google Maps search query history.
6. Please explain how and why information is combined or shared across platforms when consumers opt-in for personalised services and whether Google first requires consent prior to such information-sharing. (For instance, whether search query data is shared with or linked to a user’s Gmail account.)
8. Please explain the technology called “rich media” or “interactive multimedia,” how this technology works, and what information may be collected by its use.
9. Please explain whether Google utilizes such technology.
a. Please describe how Google interprets “reasonably linked.”
b. Please explain in what circumstances Google links information
such that an individual can be identified.
c. Please explain whether Google considers an IP address to be “personal information.”
d. Please explain whether technology exists to personally identify or determine the personal characteristics, including, but not limited to, name, email address, physical address or location, age, gender, or ethnicity of an Internet user based on that user’s IP address.
e. Please explain whether Google is capable of identifying or determining personal characteristics, including, but not limited to, name, email address, physical address or location, age, gender, or ethnicity of an Internet user based on that user’s IP address.
12. Please define the term “anonymization” as related to the data collected as described in, but not limited to, Question 1(a) – (l).
13. Are Google’s practices described in response to Question 12 consistent with industry-wide practices? If not, please describe any variance.
14. Please describe how Google anonymizes IP addresses.
15. Please describe how Google anonymizes cookie data.
16. Please explain whether Google has the capability or has attempted or plans to attempt to combine or merge the data described in Question 1(a) – (l).
17. Please define tracking cookies, which may track users across multiple websites, and how they function.
18. Please explain whether Google uses the tracking cookies described in response to Question 17. If the answer is no, please describe how Google’s cookies are distinct from those described in Question 17.
19. Please explain whether Google’s cookies reset and, if so, how and when the cookies reset.
20. If the merger of Google and DoubleClick is approved, please describe what use Google plans to make of the data retained and collected by DoubleClick (for example, data from DoubleClick’s tracking cookies or DoubleClick click-stream data), and whether Google plans to combine or merge DoubleClick’s data with data Google retains from individual search queries and other user activity on www.google.com.
a. If Google does not intend to merge or combine the data Google retains with the information or data retained or collected by DoubleClick, please describe the efficiencies of the Google-DoubleClick merger. b. If Google does not intend to merge or combine the data Google retains with the information or data retained or collected by DoubleClick, please explain how the information will be segregated.
21. Please describe how Google defines “behavioural targeting.”
22. Please describe your understanding of the broader industry’s definition of “behavioural targeting.”
23. Please describe Google’s understanding of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) guidelines and how the guidelines would apply to Google’s practices, including, but not limited to, those functions described in Question 1(a) – (l).
24. The House passed the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass (SPY ACT) in the current and prior two Congresses. The SPY ACT, H.R. 964, sponsored by Representatives Mary Bono and Adolphus Towns, mandates an opt-in privacy regime by prohibiting the collection of personal information from a computer without a user’s notice and consent prior to the execution of any information collection program. H.R. 964 also demands that a user be able to easily remove or disable the information collection program. Please explain whether Google’s applications are subject to H.R. 964’s consent requirements. If the answer is no, please explain why these programs, which collect personal information, are not subject to the consent regime established by H.R. 964.
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