Irreparable injury result if FTC fails to police Google, group tells court

A privacy group replies to the Federal Trade Commission's request to dismiss a lawsuit seeking a court ruling to compel the federal agency to enforce a consent order levied against Google as part of a privacy case settlement.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

A privacy group suing the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday in a federal court brief that the agency's inaction against Google warrants judicial review and failure to do so could cause "irreparable injury" to consumers.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wants a federal court to compel the FTC to enforce its consent order against Google, which in 2011 was found to have used deceptive privacy practices in rolling out its Goggle Buzz social service. EPIC says Google's plan to change its privacy policy on March 1 violates the consent order the company signed in October as part of a privacy complaint settlement with the FTC.

In the brief, which was a reply to the FTC's Feb. 17 motion to dismiss the case, EPIC opposed that motion and asked the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The FTC argued in its Feb. 17 brief that EPIC's action erodes the flexibility inherent in its enforcement authority. The agency also said an action against it would ignore precedent that prevents rulings that compel enforcement.

Google created waves Jan. 24 when it announced that on March 1 it would consolidate its myriad of privacy policies into a single one and would combine information about users across all its services. The announcement touched off a privacy debate from Washington to the European Union and nearly everywhere in-between.

In Tuesday's brief, EPIC said if Google's privacy policy changes do indeed violate the FTC's consent order that irreparable injury is "likely," a situation EPIC must prove will occur in the absence of an injunction.

The privacy group also cited numerous rulings that it said show the agency should be subject to judicial review. The citations directly refuted what the FTC had claimed by citing the same rulings.

EPIC also disputed the FTC's claim that action prior to March 1 is arbitrary. The agency stated somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "If the government is unaware that Google plans to make a substantial change in its business practices on March 1, 2012, it should turn on a computer connected to the Internet."

A date for a decision has not been set, but EPIC officials said they expect it to come very soon.

Editorial standards