Jenny's phone number is 867-5309!

There is a difference between public data and publicizing data. For instance, your phone number might be publicly available via the Yellow PagesTM, the interweb, or a county record. There is a huge difference between the availability of such information and the promotion of that information. Having had some of my financial information recently posted by another blogger - I am well aware of what living in a free society entails. I don't, however, have to like it when people overstep the bounds of common decency or good sense and neither do my co-workers.


  1. Sorry Jason but I think your response is off base. If the CNet reporter had published embarrasing information about individual contributors rather than well-known information about the company CEO I might--might--agree with you but Schmidt's stock holdings and that bit of political activity are/were reported in the business section of the Mercury News.

    The bigger point, which you're deflecting entirely, is that Google provides the tools to do such searches. The tools are so good, so easy, that finding personal information has become trivial. So to have your firm respond by shunning a news org for pointing it out is both bad and absurd.

    As a comparable example look at the highly-acclaimed ChicagoCrime app built on top of Google Maps. Here you have someone showing the exact locations where crimes occured. How hard would it be for a motivated individual to take the next step and instead of using the police reports to show where the crimes happened, the Megan's Law database of sex offenders was used?

    Would that be a good use of Google technology? I'm not sure but it would certainly be far more invasive. So tell me again, is Google justified in shutting out a media org for using Google's own tools?

  2. billsaysthis: there ARE Google Maps hacks that show where sex offenders live. Actually, it's one of the most popular uses for the Google Maps api.

    oh, the irony!

    Jason: I agree, "there is a difference between public data and publicising data." However, there is a level of responsibility in doing both.

    In the past Google has ignored complaints that their powerful technology was making it easier to harass people. Where is the resposibility on the side of Google for making this stuff easily available?

  3. Oh the hypocrisy. When someone at the Google Tour asks Schmidt about whether Google Maps, Google Earth and all the other Google goodies could help terrorists find military or other targets, his response is, "well we're just using information that's already publicly available.'' So it's OK for Google to surface sensitive information and make it more accessible, but when the tables are turned, the company cries foul? Seems mighty thin-skinned and self-important.

  4. At least we are still allowed to discuss this freely on a Google-owned blog network. How long will that last?

  5. "There is a difference between public data and publicising data"

    There is also a difference between a CEO of the world's most valuable media company and you and me. All CNET did was report public information about a public figure that many members of the public were interested to learn more about.

    Next thing you know, Britney Spears will not be talking to Google or Yahoo because millions of people learn information about her from their search engines :)

  6. All this means is that c|net has to work harder to cover Google and they should take up the challenge and continue reporting about them.

    For Google I think they're missing an opportunity. Rather than whine that this story was evil or that they won't tolerate this type of reporting, they should request an interview with c|net so they can answer hard questions directly.

    Their PR people should go about the task of explaining in very clear language what sort of information they collect, how they collect it, how they protect it, how they use it, how it is personally identifiable, how personal identifiers are masked to 3rd parties, what consumers can do to opt out, AND what's in it for us if we opt in...

    Beats not taking calls from c|net (and an opportunity to clarify your side of all the stories to come) and the requisite beating in the blogosphere.

  7. "There is a difference between public data and publicising data."

    This observation is a bit myopic. When you create a database of "public" data, it gets scooped up by powerful corporations that are not subject to any privacy responsibilities (limits on info sharing, use; requirements to provide individuals access or correction rights) because it is considered "public." See, for instance, the public info exceptions in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act or the APEC Privacy Principles.

    In theory, perhaps there is a difference between public and publicizing, but in practice, making personal information public indiscriminately places more control over the individual in the hands of major corporations like Lexis-Nexis, Acxiom, and Choicepoint. Now, you can wax about how Google and the Internet have empowered users, but the reality is that these corporations continue to have lots of information about you (shared with governments and marketers alike), and you have little to no control or influence over them.

    (how annoying is it that you have to register on blogger to post a comment! Perhaps that's not evil. But is it good?)

  8. In my opinion, if the information was compiled through publicly available legal sources, I dont see why Google has to go to such extremes to try and control the media. I thought Google was an edgey, casual, relaxed company, but it seems to be IBMing up a bit mabye?

  9. Nothing in the CNET article is as invasive to personal privacy as typing in a phone number or address in Google.

  10. A quick technical aside... Blogger doesn't require registration by default, that's a user defined setting and I think Jason's set his to disallow non-registered posting to help with spam.

    Just a little correction - 'kay, back to the public info discussion in progress.

  11. ...and I'm back. Geez, look at all you angry drive-by commenters. Control yourself. That will teach me to write controversial posts before checking out for the weekend. I didn't even run spell-check on my post and spelled publicizing wrong - how sad.

    First up, I think I was responding a bit more viscerally to my own recent run-in with having my public data publicized. I should also mention that I did not speak to anyone in Google PR last Friday before this post, nor have I spoken with anyone in Google PR about this issue yet. I am not speaking for the company, this is just my blog, my opinions, that's it.

    Thanks to Jeremy, Steve, Dan and all the other nice folks pointing traffic here about this issue. I am not sure this is the best place to host this discussion, but I'll gladly host it. :)

    To those of you who have said crazy inflammatory things like, 'google-owned blog network' - get a grip. This is, I use Blogger to post here, but it's my site.

    To those of you who have referred to me as the 'head of Blogger', thanks but Jason Goldman is actually the product manager heading up these days. I'm working on Blogger things here and there but mainly I'm working on something new at Google - I promise to tell more soon.

    To those of you who aren't a fan of having to register with Blogger to comment here, that's actually my choice - Blogger supports anonymous comments, but I don't. Thanks for the clarification CW.

    To those of you who don't like having your phone number in the Google index, you can remove that here.

    For those of you who really want to delve into issues of privacy, please understand that Google isn't the only company dealing with the right use of modern tools such as web search. It's a tricky issue but I think I've outlined my basic and personal feelings, not right or wrong, just the way I feel. I feel that there can be wrong uses of public data and publicizing them is one of them. Other commenters have also commented on their feelings of the wrong use of public data, such as using Google to plot terrorism and what not.

    At some level, I think that the issues here stem from the fact that Google feels like a public utility to most, that you all care so much about it that you want to see the right thing happen - you don't want us to do something wrong. That's powerful stuff. Think about that in the same terms of another utility. I don't really want terrorists to be able to use electricity or phone service, but they do - another tradeoff of living in a free society.

    I'm sure some of you have Googled yourselves. Did you put that information up there? Did some activity of yours cause information to be put out there? Did someone else write about you? Is US Weekly going to post your phone number next to an article about your love life? Why not? The information on the web is not created by Google, Yahoo, or any other single search property but by millions of folks. It's indexed and crawled information from all sorts of crazy sources and some of it is about you. I still argue that there is a right and wrong use of this data and agree that it's a fuzzy line for some people. I think I would like to hear more discussion in this area. What would you have Google do?

  12. I think the pushback you're getting is because Google's attack on CNET shows a weird denial of the privacy-deprived world that Google helps create.

    What should Google do? Something that shows it is considering the implications on privacy of features such as no-brainer lookup of a phone number or address.

    Things like the reverse directory are great as a search tool, but when you type in your phone number and see your home address pop up so prominently even the most idiotic person could find it, it can be disturbing.

  13. >To those of you who don't like having your phone number in the Google index, you can remove that here.

    Okay, so I have to go to every search engine in the world and opt out? How fair is that? What about people who are not online? What about people who are not technically savvy?

    There is a lot of ignorance of these issues, but the information sharing rules are set for the techically sophisticated, not for the average guy who didn't ask to have his phone number and home address published online.

    >What would you have Google do?

    One has to go after the sources of this data--the data brokers such as Acxiom (that's where the phone number comes from).

    Now, when a California Senator wrote legislation to address these data brokers, Google wanted a special exception so that it wouldn't be regulated by the law. (The law, SB 550, would have required companies that maintained SSNs and unpublished phone numbers, and *sold* this information to third parties to give consumers access to their files and the right to correct them.) Google's desire to be out of the bill prevented us from covering a bunch of bad Internet-based actors, such as Zabasearch and online private investigators who traffic in SSNs.

    In the course of working on that bill, a data broker lobbyist asked me why Google wasn't in the legislation. He said--don't you understand that Google will be the next information broker, the next Choicepoint? He was right.


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