Google Attack Warnings Improve User Protections
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today called Google’s new policy to warn Gmail users when a government or its proxies are trying to break into an email account a welcome step in the ongoing effort to increase communication between online companies and customers. According to news reports, when Google’s internal monitoring systems identify suspicious activity – such as a succession of unsuccessful log-in attempts – and the company determines that these activities include the involvement of state or state-backed initiatives, users will receive a warning so that they can increase their own security. “Human right defenders and other activists are often targeted by state-sponsored hacking,” said Human Rights First’s Meg Roggensack. “Google’s new policy will serve as an early warning system for Gmail users whose accounts are in danger.” Human Rights First has long advocated for online companies to provide users with more information about account activity, as well as company policies regarding the protection of user privacy. The organization is a charter member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a group established in 2008 with the goal of protecting online freedom of expression and privacy in the face of government pressure to comply with domestic laws which may run up against international human rights norms. The multi-stakeholder group is comprised of companies, investors, academics, and civil society organizations, including Human Rights First, a member of GNI’s Board of Directors. In April, the GNI issued a report detailing progress made by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in protecting internet freedom of expression and privacy online. At the time, the companies were praised for setting a new, higher bar in the ICT sector for their willingness to undertake an independent assessment of their efforts. “Today’s announcement confirms that Google is continuing its efforts to protect user data. We welcome such steps and look forward to working with Google and other companies as they continue to strengthen user protections,” Roggensack concluded.