The email below, sent to Google on 27 August 2010, is yet another endeavour to convey to Google Australia and the Googleplex that not only do they have a responsibility to engage with privacy advocacy organisations, but it's also to the corporation's advantage to do so.
On 27 August 2010, a journalist at 'The Australian', who has a strong record in writing privacy-relevant articles, sought a comment from the APF in relation to yet another feature of Google's services that had been released without prior notice, and that appeared to have negative privacy impacts. The journalist sought clarification from Google Australia but the succession of somewhat different answers were anything but clear.
During the day, The Australian published an article on the feature. The article quoted the APF Chair. Within the day, Google Australia's Public Policy & Government Affairs exec, Iarla Flynn, wrote to the APF Chair, saying that the story contained a number of mis-understandings about how the service works.
The APF's reply to Iarla was as follows:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Iarla Flynn, Public Policy & Government Affairs, Sydney)
email@example.com (Jane Horvath, Senior Privacy Counsel, Googleplex)
Subject: Re: Phone calls from Gmail fyi
Dear Iarla, Jane
Thanks for your email this afternoon, Iarla.
When we met in February, we gained from you the clear impression that you were going to take steps to engage with APF and perhaps other advocacy organisations.
Since February, a series of major issues has arisen involving Facebook. Here is my personal take on those issues, not APF's.
These are not Google's direct concern, of course; but they raised the temperature, and they sensitised the media's antennae, and it would have been reasonable to expect that Google would have inferred an increased need to get out ahead of problems.
Since February, several major issues have also arisen involving Google.
But there is still no engagement mechanism in place.
To make this abundantly clear - it's good to have one another's email-addresses and phone-numbers, but that by itself is not engagement.
Yet again, a feature has been unleashed, for which it appears:
To once again speak plainly, a blog-entry is not documentation. It's chat, not design details. And it gives no formal undertakings in relation to terms of service and privacy. And in any case, the blog entry and the links it points to appear not to address the points at issue.
So it's no surprise at all that confusion is arising in media reports.
In addition, when APF Board members field questions from the media, we don't have the time to dash around trying to find someone in Google to answer some questions.
Once more, we advise that, if and when Google moves to a professional approach to engagement with advocacy organisations, we will work hard to ensure that our responses to the media reflect the information that we have been provided with, in advance, by your company.
I've negotiated with the journalist concerned to vary the quotation from me that appears in the article, in order to reflect the migrating public understanding of the nature of the latest changes.
Regards ... Roger (as Chair, APF)