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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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FTC Sued Over Google Privacy Policy Changes

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Trade Commission dropped the ball by letting Google amend its privacy policy, a public interest group claims in Federal Court.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center's claims the government failed to back its 2011 consent order that barred Google from "misrepresenting the company's privacy practices, requires the company to obtain users' consent before disclosing personal data, and requires the company to develop and comply with a comprehensive privacy program."

Google is not a party to the case.

"In 2012, Google announced that it would change its terms of service for current users of Google services and consolidate users' personal information across more than 60 Google services in clear violation of its prior commitments to the Federal Trade Commission," the group says.

Those commitments stemmed from concern over Google's privacy policy after the widely panned 2010 launch of Google's social network, Buzz. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) complained to the FTC that Google was using information from its Gmail users "to populate Buzz, a separate and discrete social network service."

Without clearly communicating that the company was making certain personal information public, Google linked users' Gmail data to their Buzz accounts.

Eventually, the FTC found that Google "had launched Buzz through Gmail, and that 'options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective.'"

The FTC also found that Google "failed to disclose adequately that consumers' frequent email contacts would become public by default," and that it violated the Safe Harbor Framework between the United States and European Union by "failing to give consumers notice and choice before using their information for a purpose different from that for which it was collected."

The FTC's consent order bars Google from misrepresenting how it maintains personal information and requires the company to get consent before sharing the information. It also requires Google to implement a comprehensive privacy program, submit to independent assessments, and make its privacy-related documents available to the FTC.

Google's recent announcement of its plan to create a single profile for users of all its services violates the FTC order, but the agency "has thus far failed to take any action regarding this matter, placing the privacy interests of literally hundreds of millions Internet users at grave risk," the group says.

EPIC is suing the FTC for violating the Administrative Procedures Act, and wants an injunction forcing it to enforce its own consent order.

The group is represented by John Verdi.

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