Google Bows To Privacy Pressure

Dennis Faas's picture

There's been a surprising amount of buzz about a one-word change to Google's home page: 'privacy'. The company has added a link from the front page of the site to the various privacy policies for the first time. It ends a prolonged debate about whether or not Google was breaching state laws.

The controversy arose in May when the New York Times pointed out that a 2003 California law requires commercial websites based in the state to clearly display a link to its privacy policies from its home page.

At the time, Google argued that it had taken care of this with a link to 'About Google'; however, lawyers argued the front page link had to specifically use the word 'privacy'.

In mid-June, just when it seemed the fuss might have died down, rival (also based in California) made a big deal about adding a privacy link to its own front page. It put out an open letter which didn't mention Google by name, but clearly painted it as the bad guy for not complying with the legislation.

Google has now made the changes but (just as did) is billing the move as a customer service decision rather than a response to legal pressure. A Google spokesman told the Times "Some users, bloggers, and regulatory bodies have asked us why we didn't have a link, and, after evaluating, we decided that it was the right time to add one." (Source:

And in case that was too straightforward, the company published a frankly bizarre blog post about the internal wrangling involved in making the change. According to Marissa Meyer (who heads Google's search department), the firm's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin insisted that the home page must have exactly 28 words on it at all time. She solved this unlikely puzzle by replacing the words '2008 Google' with '2008 -- Privacy'. (Source:

For a firm that's main selling point is the simplicity of its search engine, it's particularly strange that Google made such a big deal of this whole affair. If it had simply added one word to their home page back in May, it would have ended weeks of negative publicity and avoided giving people even more reason to question their attitude to privacy.

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