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Google going soft on its privacy pledge?

Search giant isn't following through on pledge to weaken cookies, in light of DoubleClick acquisition. There are strong reasons for it to act on its original promise immediately.

According to an article in the Financial Times today, Google has reneged on a commitment to improve the way it manages consumer data in light of its DoubleClick acquisition. There are compelling reasons for Google's delay, as Eric Schmidt points out in the article, but there are even more compelling concerns that demand immediate action.

European regulators cut Google some slack based on its word that it was going to immediately look into ways to boost privacy. A year into that pledge, Google has done little, by its own admission:

The issue came to the fore last April with Google's announced plan to buy DoubleClick, an Internet company which delivers many of the ads consumers see online and which plants many of the cookies that sit on personal computers. The combination of Google's records of a consumer's Internet searches with DoubleClick's information from cookies prompted complaints that one company would hold extensive data about a large proportion of the world's Internet users.

Google fended off the outcry partly with a promise to use technology to minimize cookies' invasiveness...But speaking last week, Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer, said Google had yet to start substantial internal deliberations about how to deal with the issue..."What we've discovered about cookies is that every question leads to a one-hour conversation," said Schmidt.

Maybe Schmidt should use some of his 20 percent free time to work on the cookie question, as there arguably is no bigger issue for Google. The bigger and more powerful it becomes, the more the world is going to demand that it play by different rules. The more it wields Microsoft-like control, the more regulators and consumer advocates are going to demand that it constrain its behavior.

Google can't afford to dillydally on the cookie issue any longer. It needs to allay concerns now. Next time, it's doubtful that regulators will take it at its word.