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Google, Microsoft online apps both fail over privacy …

Jun 14, 20104 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

You think Facebook has weak privacy? Take a look at what Microsoft and Google are doing with your data.

Microsoft and Google are no longer pretending to play nice. They have attacked each other with virtual blood spilled on each side. While these two giants are busy battling for dominance, will you suffer as your right to privacy falls by the wayside?

Google and Microsoft hold vast collections of historical data on us all. Both have proven to have glitches and vulnerabilities. Both offer free apps. The feds love people who use online apps for their documents; it’s easier to get their hands on information stored in the cloud.

If you sign up for Microsoft’s SkyDrive Free Office web apps, you must also accept their agreement terms. The prompt states, We respect your privacy and will use this information in accordance with our privacy policy. Beneath that, it reads, Clicking I accept means that you agree to the Windows Live service agreement and Privacy Statement.

Being that there is no other option but to accept if you wish to use the service, few of us bother to review to the agreement. If you click on the Privacy Statement link, you will land on Microsoft Online Privacy Notice Highlights.

If Microsoft truly respected your privacy, then why were their privacy notice highlights last updated over 2 years ago? True, if you view Microsoft’s Online Privacy Statement in its entirety, it is newer. It was last updated a year ago in July 2009.

Microsoft’s Office App is relatively new, but buggy. Although they tried to make sharing more transparent with a slidebar, 9 out of 10 articles shared in a test were not delivered to the intended viewer. The one notification that was emailed worked fine but that was if you had it setup to allow editing with whom you had shared your document. What if you changed your mind and wanted to allow only viewing? Again, 9 out of 10 tries to change the share settings from edit to view resulted in a FAIL for a two-hour period.

Google Docs Privacy Policy was last updated October 30, 2009. They also have additional terms, but if you choose to no longer use their free app? In their privacy policy, it is your choice to terminate Google Docs at any time. You may permanently delete any files you create in Google Docs. Because of the way we maintain this service, residual copies of your files may take up to 30 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems for up to an additional 60 days.

Retaining your deleted files for 90 days does not seem to indicate that Google is overly concerned about your privacy. Although it affected a slight percentage of users, Google Docs has experienced glitches that shared documents with previous collaborators. Otherwise, setting up who can view or edit documents is straightforward.

In the end, does the privacy battle come down to data retention? Google responded to EU Data Protection Directive about search history by deleting the last octet of IP addresses after 9 months. Google keeps cookies and other browsing information for a period of 18 months. Bing’s data retention policy is better in theory. Microsoft deletes query data after 6 months and endorses “de-identification” which separates search query data from account information and anonymizes cookie information. However if you are not logged with them in at the time of your searches, Microsoft will keep your web browsing data for 18 months. This is a far cry from immediate de-identification.

The privacy policy winner in Google vs Microsoft is certainly not the people that use their online app services.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.