Google has been criticised by activist group Privacy International over its consumer privacy practices.

Privacy International released a report called ‘A Race to the Bottom - Privacy Ranking of Internet Search Companies’ in which it rated internet-related companies in terms of their attitudes to privacy. The rankings were the result of a six-month investigation.

The group carried out the research following concerns over the integrity of some companies in handling personal information. The analysis features examples of the best and worst privacy practices among large and small companies.

But it was Google that received the most criticism. The report claimed Google was “incomplete”, “vague”, “possibly deceptive” and has an “entrenched hostility to privacy”. It was also stated that Google doesn't consider IP addresses personal information, it sometimes track links users click upon and has a poor track record of responding to customer complaints.

Privacy International said: “We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial, but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organisations.”

The group explains that it’s concerned over Google’s attitude to privacy due to the “diversity and specificity of Google’s product range”, as well as its “market dominance and the sheer size of its user base”.

Google’s privacy failures listed in the report include maintaining records of all search strings and the associated IP addresses, collecting all search results entered through Google Toolbar and failing to follow generally accepted privacy practices such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines.

Google was the only internet company to receive a 'black' status, meaning that it has an ambivalent attitude to privacy challenges. None of the companies received the highest ‘green’ status although some did get a ‘light blue’ status, such as the BBC, eBay, Wikipedia and LiveJournal.

Microsoft, which was previously last on the list, has now received ‘orange’ status, two categories above Google.

The report claims that each search that’s conducted using Google enables the company to gather information about customers’ interests and beliefs that could be passed on to third parties, including advertisers. Privacy International’s main concern is the growing size of Google and the consumer data it collects through its personalised web services.

Google fought back at the claims and said the report was incorrect.

Privacy International has called on major internet search companies to meet with the organisation in July in San Francisco to clarify a number of data handling practices. The meeting is seen by the group as the first step to providing customers with consistent privacy protections and discussing common elements that can be universally improved across the internet.

A fuller report will be issued in September after consultations with further companies are carried out.

See also:

Google surrenders to EU over user privacy