Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

Summary: Google has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated its own privacy practices when it launched Google Buzz. Google agreed to implement a "comprehensive privacy program" that will be regularly audited for 20 years.

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Google has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated its own privacy practices when it launched Google Buzz. Google agreed to implement a "comprehensive privacy program" that will be regularly audited for 20 years.

The FTC alleged that Google misrepresented its privacy claims because it led Gmail users to believe they could choose to join Buzz. Instead, Google integrated Buzz and Gmail.

The settlement is the first time the FTC has alleged privacy violations under an U.S.-EU framework. In a blog post, Google apologized and said "user trust really matters."

According to the FTC:

Google launched its Buzz social network through its Gmail web-based email product. Although Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective. For users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and difficult to find, the agency alleged.

On the day Buzz was launched, Gmail users got a message announcing the new service and were given two options: “Sweet! Check out Buzz,” and “Nah, go to my inbox.” However, the FTC complaint alleged that some Gmail users who clicked on “Nah...” were nonetheless enrolled in certain features of the Google Buzz social network. For those Gmail users who clicked on “Sweet!,” the FTC alleges that they were not adequately informed that the identity of individuals they emailed most frequently would be made public by default. Google also offered a “Turn Off Buzz” option that did not fully remove the user from the social network.

Needless to say, the Google Buzz implementation led to a bevy of complaints. Under the settlement with the FTC, Google agreed to the following:

  • No more misrepresenting privacy or confidentiality of user data;
  • Google must get consent before sharing information with third parties;
  • Google has to establish a privacy program;
  • That privacy program will be audited by third parties every two years for the next two decades.

Overall, the FTC is making a statement with this Google settlement. Regular audits are designed to keep Google in check going forward and are going to be an extra cost to doing business.

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Topics: Networking, Browser, Cloud, Collaboration, Google

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35 comments
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  • Auditing for integrity

    Choice, freedom, and protection are all important. It can be useful to use a Buzz social network, but just throwing everything in the wild is a risk that many do not want to take. I think it is a good thing to have this kind of technology monitored and periodically (maybe by surprise) audited. That may help to "keep it honest".
    brian.masinick
    • Or like facebook

      @brian.masinick

      You could make as few claims about privacy as possible and do whatever you want -- at least until people get too upset.
      Mr. Copro Encephalic to You
    • No, Facebook should be next.

      Facebook's practices and UI are more than offensive and inept enough to warrant a similar smackdown.
      dgurney
  • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

    It's about time. Google has been doing shady shit for years. Someone needs to watch over them.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

      @Cylon Centurion 0005

      Yep, when will fanboys get it into their heads: No company achieves a valuation in the billions by acting ethically.
      OffsideInVancouver
    • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

      @Cylon Centurion 0005
      Check out Breadcrumbs Watchers Analytics, you will be able watch all of these who watch you.
      Privacy man
  • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

    wait, Google never had a privacy policy? Wow.
    KBot
    • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

      @KBot
      That explains quite a lot, actually.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

        @Cylon Centurion 0005 Such as? Any hard data?
        radleym
      • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

        @radleym

        Yeah. Do a search for all of Google's privacy blunders.... Buzz wasn't the first time Google threw caution to the wind. It's all they've ever done.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz...

    It is about time but have you ever seen Idiocracy? And why does "Brawndo" come to mind when I think of Google? LOL
    cc2001
  • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

    Its going to be fun to watch Google squirm as they ask themselves where they should begin with a privacy policy. Probably have to go to the dictionary to look up the term.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Now it's time for Facebook and the Rest

    So how do we get the FTC to create audits for the rest of these guys -- and to set a standard for what privacy means? I'm tired of having to stand on my head, perform tricks and just not use some of these services because they have everything but privacy in mind.

    It's fine to offer services, but it should always be the user who controls what he wants to use -- no secrets allowed.
    amywohl
  • Good start

    Sounds good... now lets do the same thing to Facebook.
    Steve Goldman
    • FB is the teflon corporation...

      @Steve Goldman ...Even the tremendous success of "The Social Network" has failed to sully FB's rep. If Hwd has no effect, how can D.C.? The world's relationship with FB seems to prove love is blind, deaf and dumb.
      cdbob18@...
      • Plus Robert Gibbs may be working for FB

        @cdbob18@...
        in the near future, so I can't see much happening to FB beyond having some new friends in D.C. ;)
        John Zern
  • RE: Google settles with FTC over Buzz; Privacy policies to be audited for two decades

    How do we completely rid ourselves of Google Buzz?
    infomagick
    • yes, how do we ?

      @infomagick ....Yes! The question the FTC ruling doesn't even address let alone answer. Like you, I demand to know now, not 2 years from now.
      cdbob18@...
      • You have to solve the problem yourself

        @cdbob18@...

        127.0.0.1 localhost
        127.0.0.1 google.com
        127.0.0.1 Rest of the ad servers

        I use adblock plus and block their cookies. Hosts file for those using IE.

        Ain't surfing fun?
        osreinstall
  • Will Google buy their way out?

    Most companies with pockets as deep as Google would at this point dispatch their lobbyists to Congress, suitcases loaded with campaign contributions, so that it can buy enough elected officials to strike down the FTC ruling. Everyone concerned with privacy needs to monitor Google's real reaction to this, not just their PR management of the wrist-slapping. So much for "do no evil."
    cdbob18@...