Employees Tried To Warn Google About Opaque Privacy, Suit Emails Show

Google Privacy Controls DG AH 2020

Google employees were unsure about the company’s representation of how its privacy controls worked in 2018. And they may have tried to express that via the search giant’s internal communication channels, reports indicate. That’s based on email statements pulled from an Arizona court case alleging that Google violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. Specifically, with regard to how it gathers data.

The emails were written following an Associated Press exposé about the mass of data Google collects.

Now, Google has done a lot to change since 2018, when those collections put under the microscope. And it’s now almost easy, with some understanding of where the requisite settings can be found, to manage data collection from Google. In some cases, that data is now autodeleted. And that’s getting better all the time.


But, when the emails, now unsealed by industry groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance, were written, even Googlers seemed disillusioned about the state of affairs.

What were the Google employees in question saying about data collection?

The comments made by Googlers mostly centered around Google’s widely-published explanation of how it collected and managed location data. First, employees lodged complains that the toggles for controlling collection and storage were unclear. The interface itself was one that would “confuse” end-users according to at least one worker.

And another worker took things further. They indicated that the design itself felt as though it was geared toward being deliberately opaque. More succinctly, the design appeared engineered to be changeable, but only with a lot of work. Potentially too much work for the average end-user to ‘figure it out’.


At least one Google employee noted that it was enough to confuse even the privacy focused Googlers working on it.

Google isn’t taking news about the emails lying down

At least one Google spokesperson has responded to reports about the newly-revealed privacy controls-related emails from employees. The spokesperson claims that the email quotes are being cherry-picked. In effect, the company says, the engineers writing the emails were working to improve location settings as well as other privacy features.

In effect, the search giant says that the communications were intended to mete out how challenging the controls were to use.