Google is losing consumer confidence. It recently dropped below the top 20 of companies that consumers feel do the best job at safeguarding personal information.
The Ponemon Institute and TRUSTe recently released its annual report detailing consumer opinion regarding the most trustworthy companies for privacy. The survey “asked 6,486 adult-aged U.S. consumers which companies did the best job safeguarding personal information,” and Google, which had been ranked on the list for the past three years, dropped from the top 20. American Express retained its spot atop the list this year, closely followed by eBay, IBM, and Amazon. And Facebook made its inaugural appearance on the list at number 15.
Dr. Larry Ponemon, whose eponymous research company co-conducted the study, believes that Google's stature slipped this year because it suffers from “big company syndrome,” he says. "People figure that if you're big and collecting data, there must be an issue.” The overall sentiment among those surveyed is that privacy is a bigger concern than ever, with just 45% of respondents believing they have control over their personal information (down from 48% in 2007 and 56% in 2006).
Facebook likely eclipsed Google in public appeal regarding security due to the dozens of personal modifications available for users on their site. Google seeks to make freely available as much information as possible, and the increase in public awareness regarding identity theft may have contributed to its omission from the top 20.
"Naturally, we're disappointed that we're no longer in the top 20 of the list. Nevertheless, our users' privacy concerns continue to be crucial to our operations, and we continue to have a firm commitment to being transparent about our approach to privacy and giving users meaningful control," says a Google spokesperson. Yet it seems like the biggest safeguard for users wary of Google's ability (or lack thereof) to protect their privacy would simply be to carefully monitor the content they put online.
Facebook disagrees. "It shouldn't be binary, where you either reveal a piece of data to everyone on the Internet or Facebook or not at all," says Chris Kelly, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer. "We think people want to share more information, but they want choices."
What does this really mean for Google? Since Google is becoming the world's largest information aggregator and it isn't publicly acknowledged among the most trustworthy companies, should its users be worried?