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Business Ethics in the News
GOOGLE: Creating a Company Culture that Respects Private Data Despite Profiting from its Collection
Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013
On March 12th, Google agreed to pay a fine of $7 million for collecting personal data during recording for its Google Maps Street View feature. Google's mobile vans, in addition to filming "street views," were also collecting emails, medical and finance records, and passwords from unprotected wireless networks as they passed by. This is not the first time Google has been penalized for privacy transgressions; last year Google was fined $22 million for bypassing security settings on Apple's Safari browser. Many are concerned that the fine of $7 million is not enough to force Google to change, pointing to the company's net profit of $32 million per day. As part of the settlement, Google has agreed to offer employee education on privacy, invest in educating the public on securing the wireless networks, and will destroy the data collected from the Street View cars. Given the value of "big data" to Google, company managers face a dilemma in determining where to draw the line between data they should collect and data that violates privacy: a growing concern in light of emerging technologies that allow for even more opportunities for data collection. What directives should Google's management give its employees?
Kirk: This is a classic dilemma where the company's self-interest and strategy threatens the public interest in personal privacy. Google must create a respect for privacy among all its managers and employees. And it must create a system for reviewing decisions, like letting Street View vans collect such data, before they are implemented. Such a system would demonstrate a companywide commitment to respecting user privacy, while offering clear guidelines to employees. Many observers think they have failed to do either.
Patrick: Speaking from the perspective of a college student, I believe many of my peers share my sentiment that I am not too concerned about Google and firms like it collecting data from its users. Google offers a number of incredibly useful products--Gmail, YouTube, and many others--free of charge. Advertising, and the data collection which enhances it, allows these products to be free; in consequence, if you are using these products you should reasonably expect data to be collected. Although, in this case Google was in the wrong because they collected data from people who were not directly using their products. While communication with employees is important, the key here for Google is to work toward transparency with its users, allowing them to know exactly what they are agreeing to when they use Google products.