EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

Summary: The Electronic Privacy Information Center is suing the Federal Trade Commission in federal court to compel the agency to stop Google from rolling out its new privacy policies.

TOPICS: Security, Google

A privacy watchdog group has filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission in an effort to block the implementation of Google's controversial new privacy policy.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says Google's plan to change its privacy policy on March 1 violates a consent order the company signed in October as part of a privacy complaint settlement with the FTC.

Google shot back at EPIC saying it is "wrong on the facts and the law."

EPIC asked the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., for a court order to force the FTC's hand in regards to Google's actions. The group is also seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction designed to compel the FTC to enforce the consent order, which among other requirements prevents the search giant from combining user data.

"We believe the change is a clear violation of the consent order," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. "EPIC  filed the suit because the FTC has both the authority and the obligation to enforce its consent orders, and [Google's] changes will take place in less than three weeks if the FTC fails to act."

But Google doesn't see it that way, and a company spokesman said, "we take privacy very seriously. We're happy to engage in constructive conversations about our updated privacy policy but EPIC is wrong on the facts and the law. "

He then highlighted three issues to reinforce the point:

  • We've undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google's history to ensure that users have many opportunities and ample time to learn about our privacy policy changes. And we're continuing to offer choice and control over how people use Google services.
  • We've created a world-class privacy compliance program, as we're confident our third-party assessments will demonstrate.
  • We're keeping your private information private -- we're not changing how any personal information is shared outside of Google.

EPIC filed the original complaint that led to the FTC declaring Google used deceptive privacy practices when it rolled out its Buzz social service in 2010. The group has also dogged Facebook over privacy issues, which resulted in a consent order between the FTC and the social networking giant.

Last week, EPIC's Rotenberg told ZDNet, "The FTC consent orders with Facebook and Google last year were a big deal. But the real test for the FTC is whether they will enforce them this year now that the companies appear to be ignoring what they agreed to."

In Wednesday's lawsuit, EPIC said the FTC  has a "mandatory, nondiscretionary duty to enforce the consent order," that EPIC has suffered a legal wrong, and that it is "entitled to injunctive relief compelling the FTC to enforce the consent order."

Google created waves Jan. 24 with an announcement it was consolidating its myriad of privacy policies into a single one and would look at users as one entity across all its service. The announcement touched off a privacy debate from Washington to the European Union and nearly everywhere in-between.

On Feb. 1, EPIC  filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking access to Google's first mandatory privacy report to the FTC as part of the consent order.

A few days later, the European Union asked Google to postpone its privacy policy changes while it studied the implications.

And just this week, Google responded to the EU regulators with a letter from its global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, that showed Google has no plans to halt the March 1 rollout of its policy changes.

In its court filing, EPIC says the FTC's failure to act puts the "privacy interests of literally hundreds of millions Internet users at grave risk."

FTC spokesperson Claudia Bourne Farrell sent ZDNet a statement saying, "The FTC takes compliance with our consent  orders very seriously and always looks carefully at any evidence that they are being violated."

Topics: Security, Google


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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  • EPIC is a stooge hired

    by google's evil competition that also hates FOSS!
    The Linux Geek
    • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

      @The Linux Geek
      I am all for FOSS. Google does not supply FOSS. Google is the biggest purveyor of spyware in the world. Unfortunately too many Geeks are ignorant of the potential danger of Google accumulating so much information about them. Beware. Google is Big Brother.
  • Google is wrong

    The consent was specific about combining data and Google knows it. The only real question is will the FTC get off their backsides and do their job?
    • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

      @No_Ax_to_Grind <br><br>No, the FTC-Google agreement had no explicit ban on combining data, and you SHOULD KNOW IT, because it's easy enough to find: <a href="http://ftc.gov/os/caselist/1023136/110330googlebuzzagreeorder.pdf" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://ftc.gov/os/caselist/1023136/110330googlebuzzagreeorder.pdf</a><br><br>It clearly states that Google is free to change its privacy rules (following certain procedures of notification), and that Google must obtain user consent (opt-in) if the changes result in "new or additional sharing" with third parties.<br><br>Nothing in the changes that Google is proposing implies a sharing of new or additional data with third parties, and that's where EPIC's statements fall short.<br><br>YOU are wrong.
      gork platter
      • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

        @gork platter

        We shall see who is wrong. (You and I won't decide it.)
      • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

        @gork platter
        The new information that is being shared is that the "you" on YouTube is the "you" on gmail is the "you" is Google search is the "you" in plus is the...

        That is most certainly new -- and valuable (or they wouldn't be doing it) -- information.
        x I'm tc
      • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

        @gork platter Honestly, if you read that entire document, you can find out that as long as they adhere to the rest of it, all Google would have to do is provide at least 30 days notice (which they have) and IF new information is being collected, simply put up a notice saying here is what we are collecting and why, do you agree? If not, we will help you close your account.

        Honestly though, I don't understand what the big deal about the new TOS and Privacy Policy is, other than lawyers are getting upset because the end user won't have to hire one to understand it. It is in simple, plain English and if you don't like the new policies, take your business elsewhere.
  • You are you are you...

    If YouTube, or Google+, or Gmail, or any other Google services were "third parties," then the point made might have merit. But - they're all Google services; they're all GOOGLE! Using an individual's Google account as a single point of reference makes sense to me, both for ease of use, and from the perspective of having one privacy policy to monitor instead of sixty. I have to side with Google here - all this arm-waving is pointless hype. There [b]are[/b] other services available that duplicate what Google does, and if you disapprove of Google's change, then liberate your data from Google, terminate your Google account, and move on. Sheesh!
  • Google has no plans to halt the March 1 rollout of its policy changes.

    Arrogance..... seems to be googles middle name. Guess their last name must be "Stupid" because Arrogance is always accompanied by stupidity.

    Google is turning out to be the goldman sachs of the tech world.
    Reality Bites
  • RE: EPIC sues FTC to stop Google; search giant says group wrong on facts, law

    The change Google is making is nowhere near as much a violation of privacy as what Yahoo did years ago. If you signed up for one thing with them your information was immediately shared throughout their offerings and with the public in general. Google is sharing the information with their various entities as you sign up for them; i.e., if you don't sign up for Picasa or Google+, then those products won't have your information. This is really a form of opt-in and that is a good thing. It also makes it easier to sign up for a product of your choosing.