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Google Douses Privacy Fire

CEO Eric Schmidt's remarks are being taken out of context, the company says.

"The context in which Eric answered this question was clear," said a Google spokesperson in an e-mailed statement. "He was talking about the US Patriot Act. The [CNBC] documentary later made clear the lengths to which Google goes to inform and empower users about privacy-related concerns, including creating a dashboard in which users can review and control data in their Google accounts."

Google has made, and continues to make privacy missteps, such as arguing last year that California law didn't require a privacy link on its home page and rolling out its Street View service around the world without enough outreach to communities and regulators.

In Italy, four Google executives face a possible jail sentence, if convicted, for failing to prevent a video depicting the bullying of a teen with Down Syndrome from being posted briefly on the Italian YouTube.

Google however is not the only company raked over the coals of privacy. Facebook this week, having apparently learned nothing from its Beacon fiasco, just asked its 350 million users to revisit their privacy settings while supporting settings that would share more rather than less information. And among other companies, there are even greater privacy problems.

If Google users care, they have not shown it in large numbers. The company continues to grow and thrive.

Google has repeatedly said that its business depends on user trust and has taken steps to enhance users' privacy, such as the Privacy Dashboard cited by Google's spokesperson.

Another such step was revealed earlier this week when Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra said that this company had decided not to implement facial recognition for its Google Goggles service, which allows searchers to identify certain objects -- or apparently certain people -- by taking a picture of the object with a mobile phone. Gundotra said the company wants to understand the privacy implications more thoroughly.

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