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Vint Cerf ‘Puzzled’ by Google Privacy Furore

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Google’s Vint Cerf defends the new privacy policy, but admits it wasn’t presented well

Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet and now an evangelist at Google, is “puzzled” by the outrage surrounding the company’s privacy policy changes.

Cerf told TechWeekEurope Google was not doing anything different with people’s data, although he admitted the tech giant did not handle the presentation of the refreshed policy particularly well.

Google is under pressure from data protection watchdogs in Europe, who have claimed the company has broken EU data protection laws by rolling all of its privacy policies from its many services into one document. EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said the changes were illegal. CNIL, the French data protection body, revealed the 69 questions it posed to Google earlier this week, in which it asked the company to explain what it is doing with users’ information.

Presentation problem

I’m puzzled by the reaction to the privacy policy,” Cerf told TWE. “I think we didn’t present this policy very well… we didn’t change the amount of data we employ, we didn’t change the way we use it. We don’t sell any of this information, it’s not our business model.

“We felt compelled we had to say something about consolidating all of that [the different policies] into one policy… that was all we did – consolidate.”

Cerf also sought to defend Google over accusations it was warping search results to favour its own products. Twitter vented its fury over recent changes to search, which it believed would favour Google+ posts over tweets, even though the micro-blogging service is more popular than Google’s option.

Algorithmic changes are regularly made by Google engineers, but they are not intended to harm Twitter, Facebook or any other rivals, Cerf said. “There is variation in rankings, but I don’t think it’s targeted at anyone in particular,” he added.

The internet of things

Cerf was speaking at the Technology Frontiers conference being hosted today by the Economist. During his speech, Cerf said the “internet itself is undergoing substantial modifications.” In particular, he homed in on the “Internet of things” and Google’s role in that trend.

Cerf indicated what changes could be made to search in the future, pointing to voice-enabled search that can understand context and interact with other machines to help the user. For instance, a user could ask for directions to the nearest Thai restaurant. Search would do that, then supply step by step directions before asking the user if they wanted to see the menu or even place an order.

Google self-driving cars are also coming along well, with 200,000 miles covered by the fleet, Cerf revealed. “Cars dont get angry, they’re focused on one job – driving safely around town. In the end I hope self-driving cars make it a lot safer for all of us.”

He admitted there had been one accident. “Someone rear-ended the car, so it wasn’t our fault,” Cerf added.

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