Australia minister attacks ’creepy’ Google in Web row
2010-05-26 0:00


Australia’s communications minister has called Google’s privacy policy "a bit creepy" in personal attacks against the head of the company and fellow Web giant Facebook in an Internet filtering row.

Stephen Conroy said Google had committed the "single greatest breach in the history of privacy" by collecting private wireless data while taking pictures for its "Street View" mapping service, and dismissed claims it was an accident.

"It was actually quite deliberate... The computer program that collected it was designed to collect this information," Conroy told a Senate committee hearing late Monday.

Asked whether he was disputing Google’s assertion that the Street View cars had gathered the fragments of personal data in error, Conroy said: "Yes. I’m saying they wrote a piece of code designed to do it."

Google has led criticism of Conroy’s plan for an Australia-wide Internet filter, warning it could damage the nation’s reputation as a liberal democracy and set a dangerous global precedent.

Canberra’s bid to block sites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse with an Internet-wide content filter also attracted condemnation from Yahoo! and Microsoft.

But Conroy accused Google of hypocrisy when it came to censorship, and said it considered itself above the law, singling out chief executive Eric Schmidt for reproach.

"When it comes to their attitude to their own censorship, their response is simply, ’trust us’. That is what they actually state on their website: ’Trust us’," said Conroy, a Senator with the ruling centre-left Labor party.

"They consider that they are the appropriate people to make the decisions about people’s privacy data, and that they are perfectly entitled to drive the streets and collect private information by photographing over fences."

"I think that the approach taken by Mr. Schmidt is a bit creepy, frankly," Conroy added.

Conroy also slammed Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, for what he said was a "complete disregard" for users’ privacy, describing it as a "corporate giant who is answerable to no one and motivated solely by profit".

"Zuckerberg, after breaking up with his girlfriend, developed a website of all the photos from his yearbook so he and his mates could rank the girls according to their looks. An auspicious start for Facebook," Conroy said of the social site’s origins.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam accused the communications minister of a "corporate character assassination" of Google, but Conroy said he was merely "describing their own words and actions".

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