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Google tells Congress it's not Phorm

'Our users trust us'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google wants you to know that in targeting online ads, it doesn't use Phorm-like deep packet inspection. But it still refuses to acknowledge its own massive threat to the privacy of humankind.

Early last week, amidst the ongoing controversy over data tracking ad firms like Phorm and NebuAd, some Congressional big wigs asked thirty American ISPs if they'd ever used customer browsing data as a means of targeting online ads. And just for good measure, they tossed the same question at Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft.

We all know that Google uses customer browsing data as means of targeting online ads. But it does things a little differently than a Phorm-equipped ISP. And on Friday, Google responded with a letter (PDF) that promptly points out this nothing less than obvious distinction.

"Given your Committee's recent focus on deep-packet inspection in connection with advertising, we feel it important to state clearly and for the record that Google does not deliver advertising based on deep packet inspection," Google public policy and government affairs director Alan Davidson said in a letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and other high-ranking lawmakers.

Google didn't actually badmouth deep-packet inspection - "we don't comment on third-parties," the search giant likes to tell us - but it seemed to imply that it frowns on the Phorm/NebuAd model - which does not require an opt-in. The next paragraph read like this: "In our quickly evolving business environment, ensuring that we can keep our users' trust is an essential constant for building the best possible products. With every Google product, we work hard to earn and keep that trust with a longstanding commitment to protect the privacy of our users' personal information. The bedrock of our privacy practices are three fundamentals: providing transparency, choice, and security."

Feel free to chuckle. Yes, unlike a Phorm or a NebuAd, Google is something you use by choice (assuming that other search engines actually provide an alternative). And it's not grabbing your surfing data from a third-party. But the sheer breadth of the data it collects is a problem in its own right. Google can talk about transparency, trust, and security all it likes. But no security is perfect. And a subpoena could nab that data at any time. ®

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