Google’s Director of Privacy Resigns, it’s Lawrence You’s Problem Now

Bomb Disposal Technician, Brain Surgeon, Astronaut, PR Director for BP. These are all relatively stress-free jobs if you’re Alma Whitten, Google’s first Director of Privacy. For the past three years Whitten has been the final say regarding privacy for the tech giant. Yesterday she announced her resignation, determined to enjoy a calm, peaceful retirement full of air traffic controlling and ice road trucking.

As Google engineers create new products – such as Google Glass – Whitten creates the privacy policy and makes sure they don’t infringe on any current laws. Her job was specifically created when Google kept getting heat for the release of privacy-violating products. According to Forbes, the main two PR fails that inspired the creation of Whitten’s position were the Street View cars pulling user Wi-Fi information and Buzz adding contacts to users’ network based on the contacts people most often email and chat with. (We can all agree that Buzz had many problems, privacy was just a legal one.)

But more than preventing the release of new products, Whitten also has to contend with the myriad of other violations that are constantly brought up against the company. Google is in the news for privacy battles more often than Lindsay Lohan gets arrested. A quick search for “Google Privacy” brings results ranging from drive-by violations, UK fines, and the slow death of Reader – and these are just in the past few hours.

googlenewsexampleWhen Whitten took the reins as Privacy Director, Google had a different privacy policy for each of their services – which amounted to 70 privacy policies. She consolidated more than 60 of these which made it easier to integrate different products and regulated how Google handle’s privacy issues. To give you an idea of how much of a Pandora’s box Google’s privacy is, this move inevitably led to sanctions from the European Union about Google reading users’ emails. Needless to say, Whitten’s replacement will have his hands full.

So who is the poor, unfortunate soul that gets to call himself Privacy Director? Lawrence You, an engineer based in Mountain View, CA. He will be transitioning into the position over the next few months as Whitten ties up loose ends. (Editor’s note: shout-out to CIO.com for using the headline Google Puts ‘You’ In Charge of Data Privacy.)

What many news outlets have been quick to point out is that the position of Privacy director has very little to do with protecting users’ privacy. Look at the above examples. By preventing new products from getting released with flaws, Google saves time and resources fixing the services to meet legal privacy standards. With a strong privacy director in place, Google is looking out for itself, not its users.

To Alma Whitten, I hope you enjoy your retirement. To Lawrence You, I recommend investing in Tums and yoga classes.

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Amanda Dodge