Google must lead on privacy education: agency head

Cohn & Wolfe's UK CEO has called for under-fire Google to lead the charge on the issue of privacy.

Cohn & Wolfe's UK CEO has called for under-fire Google to lead the charge on the issue of privacy.

The search engine giant is facing a legal battle from iPhone users in the UK who allege their browsing habits were tracked by the company despite the iPhone's Safari browser being set to block cookies, the pieces of software used to track web browsing.

Scott Wilson, UK CEO of Cohn & Wolfe, said the web browsing case “went to the heart of the debate around the corporatization of the web.”

He said that there was “a shift” in people's acceptance of how their data is being used.

“People are realizing there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to their information, and this speaks to the wider debate about trust, transparency, and integrity,” Wilson added. “Google needs to bite the bullet and lead a campaign of consumer education. They are particularly well placed to lead a debate and set the agenda.”

The case, which is being brought by law firm Olswang, follows privacy concerns about Google Street View and other legal action taken over tracking cookies. This case involves a group of 12 people seeking damages, and it has been reported that it could open the company up to further action.

Consumers bringing the case say they thought that cookies would be blocked because of assurances given by Google in the time their devices were allegedly affected, from summer 2011 to spring 2012.

Last year, Google agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission claims that the company improperly planted cookies on the Safari web browser.

Tom Berry, head of technology at Fleishman-Hillard in the UK, said the issue was becoming more prominent, and it may lead to a change in how businesses position their communications.

“You could see companies leading with their privacy and data protection standards as a starting point when it comes to interacting with a customer,” he explained.

Google, whose communications on the issue are handled by Portland, declined to comment.

This article first appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister title of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.

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