Computer related privacy is one of those areas where if a tech company gets it wrong, the failure is normally quite spectacular. This, plus the fact that Google is huge, makes the job of Privacy Director at the Mountain View company hard. After just a few years in the job Google’s current privacy boss Alma Whitten is leaving Google to retire. She will however stay on for a few more months for the transition to Lawrence You, her replacement.
As far as privacy is concerned Google never seems to be far from the spot light. Trying to judge the success of Alma’s time in charge of Google’s privacy department is hard as we can never see what might have happened if her group didn’t police Google’s actions and attitudes. However one thing is sure, Google is likely to be pleased to have Lawrence You working out of Mountain View rather than someone directing things from London, which is where Whitten was based.
During Whitten’s time Google has been trying to get its privacy work right and to be fair to Google it does try. Since it is the custodian of so much of our data how Google uses, processes and protects that data is important for all of us. Android itself is Google’s official mobile entrance way into all those Google services and the best way to access your Google data. As such Google’s privacy related policies and actions affect every Android user.
But Google has not always got it right. Back in 2012 Google entered into a small skirmish with the EU over its privacy policies. The EU felt that Google could be violating data protection laws. There was also the incident when Google deliberately ignored Safari’s privacy settings so that it could continue to track users across the net. On top of that it was revealed only a few weeks ago that purchases made on Google Play disclose users’ personal info to app developers.
Following new research, which was published this week in Nature, it is becoming clear that so-called “anonymous” data that is often collected by apps can in fact be used to identify individual users. The challenge for Lawrence You will not only to ensure that Google behaves responsibly with our data, but also to protect our data from being analysed (even anonymously) for patterns. These patterns in themselves can reveal too much about our personal lives. Also with new projects like Google Glass (which has already come under attack due to privacy concerns), Lawrence will certainly be busy.
As for Alma, we want to wish her every success for the future.