It seems like every time we write the name “Google” in a headline, it is proceeded by “vs.”: Google vs. Apple, Google vs. Microsoft, Google vs. Yahoo, Google vs. China, Google vs. Facebook*… but this week we can add an unlikely new contender to the list: Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

As Bernard Keane reported on The Stump yesterday, Conroy used Monday’s Senate Estimates meeting to launch a ten-minute tirade on the search engine giant for collecting private wi-fi data while constructing its Street View mapping service.

“Google takes the view that they can do anything they want,” Conroy said.

“It is possible that this has been the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies.”

Needless to say, Conroy’s attack hasn’t gone unnoticed by the geek world and the wider world, with coverage from the likes of CNET, Mashable, FT, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.

As Crikey‘s tech correspondent Stilgherrian has explained, Conroy’s concerns are valid, and the incident is currently being investigated by the Australian Privacy Commissioner:

In Australia, under the Cybercrime Act 2001 it’s illegal to access computer data without authorisation even if, in effect, the door is wide open…

Google has already apologised for the breach, dismissing it as a simple “mistake”. But Conroy has called BS, claiming “they wrote a piece of code designed to do it”.

But Google has hit back, accusing Conroy of hypocrisy and distraction from the shortcomings of his own proposed internet filter plan:

“We were surprised to hear more discussion about Google and Facebook than about the actual proposed filter.”

Google says Conroy is just bitter over its very public criticism of the filter.

Not content with taking on just one giant of the ‘tubes, Conroy also joined the chorus of voices shouting down Facebook’s privacy policy, saying:

Facebook has also shown a complete disregard for users’ privacy lately.

Facebook, I understand … was developed by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg, who after breaking up with his girlfriend developed a website of all the photos from his yearbook so he and his mates could rank the girls according to their looks. An auspicious start for Facebook.

Today, the Australian Federal Police joined in the stacks on, saying it’s only a matter of time before Facebook leads to “loss of life”, and calling for the social networking site to appoint a dedicated law enforcement liason in Australia to police the site.

In capitalising on the current torrent of vitriol raining down on Facebook, Conroy may have found the ultimate strawman to take the heat off his own plans, asking who voters would prefer be in charge of their internet:

A corporate giant who is answerable to no one and motivated solely by profit making the rules on the internet, or a democratically elected government with all the checks and balances in place?

* or this may reflect my lazy over-reliance on cliched, fill-in-the-blanks headlines

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey