Moxie Marlinspike pans Google privacy changes


Google is not holding up its "end of the bargain" with customer privacy, according to noted security researcher Moxie Marlinspike.

Marlinspike, who now works for Twitter having sold his mobile security firm Whisper Systems to the micro-blogging firm in 2011, said Google's recent changes to privacy were not "fair."

Google this week created a tighter privacy policy, rolling 60 of its services into it. This would allow the company to share data between these services.

We should interpret this as looking into the future. This is just the first step, it's only going to get worse.

Users have to agree to the policy and can always quit their Google account if they are not happy with the changes, but the alterations concerned Marlinspike.

"Generally, things are not looking great with Google. I think that people have given Google a lot and with that they've trusted [Google] will do the right thing, that they will focus on the user and that there won't be any surprises," Marlinspike told IT Pro. "That's turning out to not be true. They're not really holding up their end of the bargain there.

"Now they're saying you have until this time to change your mind, but it's not about just opting in to providing data, it's opting in in terms of connecting your life to a network that is controlled by Google.

"It's difficult to now transition out of that. They were able to build that network through that trust and I feel like it's not exactly fair for them to change the rules."

Marlinspike said Google was trying to cloak what it was doing by claiming it didn't have a choice.

"What worries me is that it is totally obvious what they're doing but they're trying to couch it in this language like 'we have no other choice, this is our only option, these people aren't making the data available to us,'" he added.

"We should interpret this as looking into the future. This is just the first step, it's only going to get worse."

Some have praised Google's privacy moves, however, including EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner's vice president.

Reding said "Google was quick" in getting privacy policies in place before the refreshed data protection rules were announced.

Google declined to comment on Marlinspike's criticisms.

Facebook faults

Marlinspike also raised concerns about Facebook and its tie-ins with various other web services.

"The Facebook 'like' buttons [etc.] all over the internet are tracking everything you do. It's easy to say 'well, just log out of Facebook' but if Facebook is your identity for all these other websites and you don't have a choice because that's the only identity you can provide, then you have to be logged in," he added.

"That's their game, they want to get as much data as possible, they want to know as much about you and about your habits. They're not sinister, they want to target advertising, those are their goals, but the problem is that they're sitting on a lot of data and that data becomes very attractive to attackers and very attractive to Governments."

Facebook had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Facebook has repeatedly been criticised for its stance on privacy. It was recently told by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to make privacy settings more prominent and simpler to use.

The Irish DPC did praise Facebook, however, for being proactive in improving its privacy credentials.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.