EPIC explains their FTC complaint about Buzz

The FTC deals with "unfair and deceptive" practices. We filed a complaint against Google because Google was attempting to transform an email service into a social networking service, without users' knowledge or consent.

The recent negative buzz (sorry I couldn't resist) against Google and how Buzz initially was launched with key default privacy settings turned off hasn't been good press for Google over the past two weeks.  The privacy settings, back tracking and making significant changes to Buzz has not been enough. The first complaint has been filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) with the Federal Trade Commission. It is likely that a more than just a few lawsuits will unfold over the coming months.

But here's the thing - why hasn't Twitter been embroiled in the same light as Google's Buzz launch? It could easily be argued that Twitter has the same privacy problems that Buzz has. So far there have been no lawsuits against Twitter. Yet the methods and what information gets retweeted is the same type of application sharing that Google Buzz enables. Take a look at how Twitter displays other twitter ID when information is shared. It is practically the same in scope, submission and content being pushed to other users that is the result. And the originator and receiver very likely do NOT know each other.

EPIC's complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demands an immediate investigation into Google and how is managing Privacy of its users. In a telephone interview with Kim Nguyen, EPIC Consumer Privacy Counsel explains why it lodged the complaint with the FTC and how Google Buzz should be investigated,

"The FTC deals with "unfair and deceptive" practices.  We filed a complaint against Google because Google was attempting to transform an email service into a social networking service, without users' knowledge or consent.  We found this to be unfair and deceptive.  Users generally view email as private, and do not necessarily want their Gmail contacts to be shared with others -- Google did not give them that choice. The service was an opt-out service, and still is - users must take the initiative to disable Buzz completely."

When I pointed out that Twitter operates in a similar manner as Google Buzz, and does so when its users retweet a tweet, and may not know where it gets sent or to whom, she replied that Twitter is a social media application which implies a lack of privacy right from the moment a user begins using it, while as Google's GMail does not.  Because the company designed Buzz inside Gmail and linking the two together, which broke one application that has accepted privacy expectations with another (social media) that does not, Nguyen's point is clearly made.

"Twitter is a social networking site first and foremost.  So, users who sign up for Twitter know they are signing up for a social networking site, where they will follow and be followed. "

It will be interesting to see how this complaint unfolds. It should be noted that EPIC uses Twitter for posting information, news releases and published articles by the organization. Buzz would not had any issues had it been designed as a completely separate service or ensured that Buzz was not turned "on" inside GMail user accounts during its launch. Oops.

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