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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Google, California's Privacy Policy Law & Our Sci-Fi Future
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Google stands accused of violating a California law that requires a website operator to "conspicuously post" a link to its privacy policy on its "home page or first significant page after entering the Web site" with the word "Privacy" in a larger font than the rest of the page's text.

Are we not fortunate to have state laws that make it possible for customers to actually find website privacy policies? With all the billions of documents floating out there in the dark and mysterious pipes and tubes of the so-called “Internet,” how on earth would any simple user ever find the Google privacy policy if Google were not required by law to include an obvious link to that policy on its homepage? Some modern-day da Vinci would have to invent a technology that could magically index every single webpage in existence and let users find—or “search,” to use a classic science-fiction term—for that particular webpage by typing the words “Google privacy policy” and clicking a button.

Until such fantastic Jules Verne-style technologies are developed in some distant century, it is obviously vital that each and every state government develop its own requirement as to how website operators—especially those that purport to offer fantastic-but-as-yet-clearly-impossible “search” services—must clutter their websites' homepages with links to information that no user could ever possibly find on his or her own with today’s crude technology.

Of course, even if such “search engines” (to coin an unlikely phrase) actually existed, the burden on consumers of typing seventeen (17!) letters—plus two (2) spaces and perhaps even two (2) more quotation marks for a total of up to twenty-one (21!) agonizing-to-type characters—would have to be reduced dramatically through some additional innovation or Esperanto-like simplification of the English language before we could reasonably expect that average consumers might be able to find privacy policies on their own without the benefit of California’s enlightened net-paternalism.

Let us only hope that California will protect Internet users all over the planet from the myriad other horrors of poor website design and organization—and that every other state will do the same. Given still-unconfirmed rumors that website operators are increasingly beginning to serve customers from multiple states—and, in some extreme cases, even multiple countries—it is, of course, possible that conflicting state laws might create some difficulty for certain website operators, who could be forced to create state-specific versions of their webpages in the face of conflicting state laws, each with different links and disclaimers in varying font sizes and perhaps even colors. Nonetheless, when it comes to making privacy policies accessible, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty privacy.” President Kennedy, himself a dreamer about new frontiers, would have settled for nothing less.

Sacramento, the world looks to you now more than ever to lead us to a brighter future where any information a user could ever want is just a click away.

posted by Berin Szoka @ 5:01 PM | Internet , State Policy

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