FTC Charges Deceptive Privacy Practices in Google's Rollout of Its Buzz Social Network
Last updated: March 30, 2011 - 4:15pm
Google Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010. The agency alleges the practices violate the FTC Act. The proposed settlement bars the company from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. This is the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information. In addition, this is the first time the FTC has alleged violations of the substantive privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States.
The proposed settlement bars Google from misrepresenting the privacy or confidentiality of individuals’ information or misrepresenting compliance with the U.S.-E.U Safe Harbor or other privacy, security, or compliance programs. The settlement requires the company to obtain users’ consent before sharing their information with third parties if Google changes its products or services in a way that results in information sharing that is contrary to any privacy promises made when the user’s information was collected. The settlement further requires Google to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program, and it requires that for the next 20 years, the company have audits conducted by independent third parties every two years to assess its privacy and data protection practices.
The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning March 30, 2011 and continuing through May 2, 2011, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.
Sen John Kerry (D-MA) said the settlement underscores the need for legislation that outlines how businesses can use consumer information collected online.
Center for Democracy & Technology President Leslie Harris said: "The terms of this agreement are strong medicine for Google and will have a far-reaching effect on how industry develops and implements new technologies and services that make personal information public. We expect industry to quickly adopt the new requirement for opt-in consent before launching any new service that will publicly disclose personal information. This settlement sends the message that companies not only have to keep the promises they make to consumers, they must give users control over any technologies that make their information public."
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