Concerned with the way Google was gathering social security numbers from children in connection with its "Doodle 4 Google" contest, I wrote to Reps. Ed Markey, D-MA, and Joe Barton, R-TX, calling for hearings into the incident as well as a look at the Google Wi-Spy scandal.
I sent the letter via email around noon today and later this afternoon in a joint statement the co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus agreed to schedule a hearing. Here's what they said in their joint statement:
“We are deeply disturbed by recent media reports that Google may have engaged in sketchy practices with its Doodle 4 Google contest by collecting the social security numbers of children who participated in the contest. This is unacceptable.
"As Co-Chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we have long believed that consumers should have control over their own personal information. It is particularly important that stringent privacy protections are applied so that children do not have their personal information collected or disclosed.
"We plan to convene a Caucus hearing to discuss industry practices as they relate to online privacy, including protection of information about children. We have long focused on the issue of online privacy and safeguarding sensitive and personal information and we will continue to actively monitor developments in this important area.”
You can't ask for a better response than that.
Google was requesting the last four digits of an entrant's social security number. Coupled with other data on the entry form it was likely to be able to deduce the child's entire number. Of greater concern, according to Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), is the fact that the last four digits of the SSN are the default password for many commercial services such as cell phone plans and financial services. In other words Google was routinely collecting the default passwords for minors.
While Google has stopped asking for the information, it's important to hold the Internet giant accountable and find out why its privacy gaffes continue and how they can be stopped.