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Google Privacy Issues Pushed Away by Judge

(CN) - A federal judge said she cannot order the Federal Trade Commission to make Google obtain its users' permission before sharing their private information.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says it is concerned that Google's new privacy policies, effective March 1, will violate the order by creating a single merged profile for all of its users. But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson says the court has no authority to force the FTC to keep Google in check.

In June 2011, a federal judge approved an $8.5 million class action settlement brought by 31 million Gmail users who sued Google for exposing their personal information through its recently discontinued email feature, Google Buzz. In their lawsuit, users called the feature, which automatically shared their information with their email contacts, an "indiscriminate bludgeon" that could reveal the names of doctors' patients or lawyers' clients, or even the contacts of a gay person "who was struggling to come out of the closet and had contacted a gay support group."

"At bottom, the FTC's decision whether to take action with respect to a potential violation of the consent order is a quintessential enforcement decision that is committed to the agency's discretion and is not subject to judicial review," Berman wrote.

She added that her ruling should not be taken as an endorsement of Google's privacy policies or her opinion on whether they violate the consent order.

"The court wishes to underscore that this decision should not be interpreted as expressing any opinion about the merits of EPIC's challenge to Google's new policies," she wrote. "Since judicial review is unavailable here, the court has not reached the question of whether the new policies would violate the consent order or if they would be contrary to any other legal requirements. EPIC - along with many other individuals and organizations - has advanced serious concerns that may well be legitimate, and the FTC, which has advised the court that the matter is under review, may ultimately decide to institute an enforcement action. So neither EPIC, nor Google, nor any party with an interest in Internet privacy should draw any conclusions about the court's views on those matters from this opinion."

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