Court agrees to speed up case over Google's privacy policies

A federal court has agreed to an accelerated briefing schedule in a privacy case that could affect the rollout of Google's new privacy policies.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

(Updated 7:02pm PST)

Google's roll out of its new privacy policy could indeed hit a snag as a federal court Thursday granted an accelerated briefing schedule in a case where a privacy watchdog group is suing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The court gave the FTC until Feb. 17 to respond to two briefs filed Wednesday by watchdog group the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). In turn, the court stipulated that EPIC is required to reply to the FTC by Feb. 21.

EPIC claims 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.

In court today, the FTC argued that EPIC's claims were without merit and that a normal briefing period was reasonable. The judge rejected both arguments.

Yesterday, 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. EPIC is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction designed to compel the FTC to enforce the consent order.

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." EPIC says it is imperative that the court hear the case before the March 1 rollout of the new policy, which will affect all Google users.

"We believe the change is a clear violation of the consent order,"EPIC's Rotenberg said Wednesday. "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."

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."

A Google spokesman said yesterday, "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."

After Thursday's ruling to accelerate the briefing schedule, a Google spokesman said the company had no comment.

Google created waves Jan. 24 when it announced 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.

Editorial standards