Ruh Roh, Tylenol Scare

Will be very interesting to see if this little nugget breaks out and gets attention.

I was at a company that was accused of privacy violations. Real was hammered because our RealJukebox 2.0 player had a GUID — globally unique identifier, or GUID — which theoretically could have been used to track individual listening habits. We hadn’t informed our customers of this feature, and thus could not have gotten informed consent from them to enable it. And though the GUID was never used to track individual listening habits, and the RealJukebox and RealPlayer were quickly patched to remove the GUIDs altogether and any possibility of this occuring, the fact that the feature was ever included without disclosure to — and informed consent from — our customers understandably troubled many, many people.

We went through a searing, painful, good faith soul-searching after that. We apologized to our customers. We were deeply embarrassed that this mistake could have ever happened. We put processes in place thereafter to scrutinize every service and product we subsequently built to ensure there were no real or apparent privacy violations. But our efforts at being purer-than-pure didn’t matter by that point; the damage with many consumers and customers had been done during a two-week firestorm. Opinions had already been set in stone, and it would be difficult if not impossible to change them. Forever.

And here lies Google’s potential hazard with web accelerator — they run the risk of creating an appearance of violating users’ privacy, regardless of how pure they may think they are being with regard to the actual facts. They appear to disclose what they’re collecting with GWA. But the fact that they’re collecting this data at all will prove troubling to many folks. Even if they are legally, technically within the bounds of accepted online privacy behaviors, many may wonder why they really need to collect data from third party sites their customers visit and cache that data. And once that questioning starts, it is hard to put an end to it.