Tag Archives: FTC

Huge Fine Against Google For Violating Privacy Is Imminent

Apple Safari icon

The other day the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a strongly worded report condemning Google’s privacy violations and the company’s deliberate obstruction of an investigation into the gathering of sensitive data off personal computers. 

The FCC was deeply disturbed by what Google did but they’re hands were pretty much tied and couldn’t take serious action against Google. The federal agency fined Google $25,000 for impeding their investigation and they said what Google did was technically not illegal. According to PCWorld, this is because the laws are not up-to-date with technology. What Google did was obviously an invasion of privacy and SHOULD be illegal but Google seems to have gotten away scot-free because there aren’t laws that protect Americans from criminals who steal their personal data off unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Anyway, I came across an article yesterday by the Mercury News stating that Google is about to be hit hard by another federal agency, this time it’s the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As you all should already know, the FTC has been in the middle of conducting their investigation on Google’s illegal circumvention of Apple’s Safari Web browser.

The Wall Street Journal exposed Google back in February for deliberately bypassing the privacy and security settings of Safari users. Apple set the default setting on its Safari browser to maximum security to protect their users from tracking companies – Google hated this and used a secret code to bypass this security setting. This exposed millions of Safari users to tracking for months without them every knowing about it. Immediately after the Journal released their story several lawsuits against Google popped up.

Now, according to the Mercury News, the major fine against Google is imminent. The newspaper spoke to a source who says that the FTC will take action against Google within a month. The FTC already has a consent order against Google which was put in place late last year. Google violated the privacy of their users when they launched their failed social networking tool called “Buzz”. After an investigation, Google agreed to a settlement that would require the company to regularly submit a compliance report to the FTC and they agreed to two decades of close monitoring from the FTC.  Google also promised never to violate the privacy of their users or any company’s users – evidently they couldn’t keep their promise.

Google faces a fine of $16,000 per violation per day. There were millions of Apple users affected and victimized by this invasion of privacy so you can imagine that the fine could be colossal. Let’s hope the FTC puts Google in its place and hits them hard – Google definitely deserves it.

For more information:

PCWorld, “Google Says Snooping on Wi-Fi Networks Isn’t Illegal” – click here

Mercury News, “Google target of new federal privacy probe” – click here

Computerworld, “Privacy watchdog, lawmaker push for Google probe” – click here

The Register, “Google faces WHOPPING FTC fine for Safari privacy gaffe” – click here

The Hill, “FTC official: Sharing on social sites ‘can’t be forced’” – click here

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Google Faces More Privacy Scrutiny And Legal Trouble

Good news, folks!

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google is now facing new investigations over privacy violations. One month ago, Google was caught red-handed stealing personal data from the computers of Apple Safari users. Google used a code to trick Apple’s web browser into accepting tracking cookies, which would then track users on the Internet. Of course, Apple users had no idea this had happened to them and Google knew exactly what it was doing. The code Google used to bypass Apple’s web browser security had been known about for a number of years – Google made the unethical decision to exploit the security vulnerability very deliberately.   

Google was caught by a Stanford University researcher named Jonathan Mayer. He exposed Google by explaining in detail how the company was able to circumvent the Safari browser security to the Wall Street Journal. After being exposed, Google tried to play all innocent and stupid – “oh I’m sorry, I swear I had no idea my little code would do such a thing. Oops, oh well. Get over it”.

People didn’t get over it, immediately after the story was published by the Journal several lawsuits were filed against Google. The lawsuits have seemingly never stopped piling up! I have lost count how many times Google has been sued by their victims.

Anyway, there is word now that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – OMG, yes, FTC finally! – is seriously looking into whether Google violated privacy agreements.  The FTC has been in a deep sleep for a while now and hasn’t really said anything against Google. This is the first time we are hearing the FTC is actually taking real steps to correct transgression and triumph over ‘evil’.  The FTC can levy fines of $16,000 per violation, per day. This might not seem like very much punishment, especially for a company like Google, but Google victimized millions of people. There are millions of people who use Apple’s Safari web browser. If calculated appropriately and comprehensively, it can add up against Google very quickly.

But – Google was forced to pay up half a billion dollars before by the US Department of Justice for aiding and abetting a con artist to commit his crimes. That hasn’t stopped them from taking part in unethical behavior. Perhaps Google needs heavier legal penalties to prevent them from victimizing innocent people in the future. Google just doesn’t get it.

Google can sometimes be handled with kid gloves, but European regulators don’t play nice with Google. European Union data protection authorities are already investigating Google for its new intrusive privacy policy which took effect on March 1st. Their investigation now also includes the bypassing of Apple’s web browser security. It will be very interesting to see what they officially conclude!

We’ll just have to wait and see what develops. Stay tuned – to be continued!

For more information:

Wall Street Journal, “Google in New Privacy Probes” – click here

MercuryNews, “Google faces scrutiny from states” – click here

paidContent, “Lawsuits Mushroom Over Google Browser Tracking” – click here

MarketWatch (Press release), “Consumer Watchdog Applauds FTC, EU…” – click here

googleexposed, “Google Tricked And Lied To Apple Users...” – click here

googleexposed, “A Breakdown Of Google’s Statement…” – click here

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Advocacy Group Sends 16-Page Complaint To Stop Google From Misleading Users

 Yesterday, The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) sent a 16-page complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the federal agency to thoroughly investigate Google and stop the company from implementing its more intrusive new privacy policy, which goes into effect March 1st.

The advocacy group wants the FTC to acknowledge that Google has broken its consent order, which the company agreed to late last year. The settlement between the FTC and Google required that Google should never deceive users again and that any changes to privacy policies should be accepted by users with their full permission (Google refused to let users opt-out of the changes to its privacy policies). The FTC can levy fines of $16,000 per day, per violation, if it concludes that a consent order has been breached.

Google claims that the changes to its privacy policies and terms of service is to simply give users a better experience online, but several privacy advocacy groups (and even 36 US Attorneys General) don’t believe Google. The combining of information is really to create a clearer profile of exactly who you are and sell that personal data to advertisers. Jeff Chester, executive director of CDD, wrote:

“Google fails to tell users in its principal privacy change communications how such data collection, profiling, and targeting practices impact — and potentially harm — their privacy…Google presents the information in a deceptive way that suggests consumers will benefit from the new policy…[Google] has sugarcoated its decision in a manner designed to mislead users…It should have informed them of cross-platform data integration for targeting and the privacy implications therein”

CDD said Google’s own research, done with Nielsen in October 2011, showed that cross-platform data gathering and targeting capabilities is required to increase advertising effectiveness across TV, PC, smartphone and tablets.

Under the consent decree Google admitted it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies when it introduced its Buzz social-networking service in 2010. The 20-year settlement with the FTC bars Google from misrepresenting how it handles information and obliges the company to follow policies that protect consumer data in new products.

Claudia Bourne Farrell, a spokeswoman for the FTC, said the agency had received the complaint and declined to comment further.

Internet users, at the very least, have the right to know the truth.

For more information, please click here and here

I would also highly recommend you read this article published on CNN by Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos Inc., titled “Did Google intentionally track you?” – click here

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The US Federal Trade Commission Wants Privacy Advocacy Group To Back Off

 Just under two weeks ago, I wrote about The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) lawsuit against the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to force the federal agency to punish Google for breaking terms of its settlement with the agency. To get fully caught up or to refresh your memory, please go back and read through two of my posts discussing this lawsuit and then return back to this one: click here and here

Alright, so the federal court asked the FTC to submit their response to the lawsuit filed by EPIC by Friday, February 17th, 2012. The FTC did get back to the court by that date and basically told the court that they want the lawsuit to be dismissed because EPIC has no right to tell the FTC how to do their job. The FTC made no mention of whether or not EPIC is correct in wanting to punish Google for violating the consent order – the agency just wants EPIC not to force it to take action against Google. If the federal agency is going to take actions against Google, it wants to do it on its own. An FTC spokeswoman, Claudia Farrell, said:

“We are asking the court to dismiss the case because parties such as EPIC are barred by law from interfering with the proper investigation and enforcement of F.T.C. orders”

The issue here is that the agency is arguing that since EPIC was not a party to the settlement agreement between Google and the FTC – it should have no say whatsoever in how Google should be scrutinized. The FTC wants to reserve to right to make decisions under its own discretion.

The FTC believes that the involvement of public interest groups, business competitors, and other kinds of groups imposing themselves into the business of the FTC will give too much power to these groups. However, EPIC is arguing that the Federal Trade Commission Act creates a non-discretionary duty for the FTC to act on violations of consent orders. EPIC just wants the FTC to acknowledge the obvious violations by Google and punish Google quicker because time is of the essence here since Google vowed that it would start consolidating and further monetize personal data of its users starting March 1st. Epic’s executive director, Marc Rotenberg, said:

“There can be no question that the Federal Trade Commission has a duty to enforce its final order in the Google matter”

The FTC should get its act together and do the right thing here. Stop stalling for time and getting your feelings hurt because an advocacy group is telling you how to do your job better. EPIC does not want to “deprive the Commission of the discretion to exercise its enforcement authority“; it just wants the agency to see the obvious and then appropriately act on it swiftly.

The irony is that the same day the FTC filed an opposition and a motion to dismiss EPIC’s lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal exposed Google for spying on Apple users.

EPIC is expected to respond to the federal court tomorrow, February 21st.

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Google Tricked And Lied To Apple Users To Make It Easier To Later Spy On Them

Yesterday, I posted here how you can better protect yourselves against Google by making sure your iPhone’s settings are set to maximum security. My post, which I titled “How to block Google from tracking you on your iPhone“, gave you steps for you to follow. In addition, I provided you a link to the Business Insider website that has the full 10 steps. Here is a link to the post I’m referring to – click here

Let’s take a closer look at step number 7, which advised you to do the following:

“This screen will pop up. Hit ‘Never.’ That means your browser will never accept any cookies. (Google’s trick took advantage of the “From visited” setting. That setting means you only want cookies from sites you visit. But Google and other ad networks found a way to deliver their cookies anyway.) Then hit ‘Safari’ to go back to the last screen.”

This is a critical step because, as already pointed out to you, Google was able to circumvent Apple’s security setting through a loophole in the “From visited” setting. What Google figured was that Apple designed their browser to only accept cookies from the actual page users are on if the browser thought users trusted the site enough to file out a form. Google then deliberately manipulated the browser to accept Google’s tracking cookies by changing a code to trick the browser into thinking that the user was filling out a form when in actuality they were not. For an illustration on how this works, you can click here

Alright, if you thought that was bad enough – wait, it gets worse! Let me tell you just how disgusting and low Google was willing to go. Google not only targeted innocent unsuspecting users of Apple’s web browser, who thought that they were not being tracked, but Google also intentionally lied and deceived them too!

Google didn’t just secretly go and change the security setting of Apple users’ browser – they also gave false advice to innocent people to follow, so that Google could carry out its tracking and manipulate the browser.

How did Google deceivingly set people up to be later victimized? Okay, here are the sordid details explaining what exactly Google did:

Google knew about the loophole in Apple’s Safari security setting as early as 2010, as reported by Tech website Gizmodo.

Google has something called an “advertising cookie opt-out plugin”, which was supposedly developed by Google to give people a way to block third-party cookies (hmm, whatever!). So anyway, this plugin was developed for users of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google’s own browser named Chrome.

Conspicuously missing from this list was Apple’s web browser, Safari, which Google decided not to include. Google claimed that they couldn’t yet create a similar plugin that could function on Safari – but they reassured Apple’s users that their browser already has a built-in default setting which effectively blocks tracking anyway.

Then, Google told Apple users to double-check if they are truly protected from tracking cookies by checking their settings. Google gave them a 3 step instruction to “confirm that Safari is set up to block third-party cookies“.

This is what Google told Apple users in step 3:

“Make sure the ‘Accept cookies’ setting is set to ‘Only from sites you navigate to’. You can also set this option to ‘Never’, but this will prevent many web sites that rely on cookies from working.”

Wow! The level of deception is absolutely abhorrent! Now that we know what Google did to Apple users, this last step Google provided to innocent people makes more sense in hindsight. Google deliberately gave unsuspecting and trusting Apple users the wrong advice to make them more vulnerable to spyware and tracking!

What Google did is morally and ethically corrupt – it should also be illegal!

By the way, that “advertising cookie opt-out plugin” page has now been edited by Google to hide the evidence. Some time between February 14th and 15th, Google found out that the Wall Street Journal was in the process of writing a story about the tracking of Apple users – Google then immediately edited that page so that the instructions for Apple Safari users is no longer there.

But they couldn’t hide it fast enough because a non-profit consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog took screenshots of the page before it had been edited and after it was edited by Google.

This is a screenshot before Google edited the page: click here

This is the screenshot of that same page after Google edited it: click here

The advocacy group has written a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) detailing what they found. The group is calling on the FTC to take actions to punish Google for clearly violating the consent order the company agreed to last year.

According to Walter Isaacson’s bestselling authorized biography on the late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs was a fierce defender of the iPhone. Steve Jobs was “willing to go thermonuclear war” against Google to defend his products and users. Sadly, Mr. Jobs passed away last year from cancer – but this doesn’t mean Apple users are not fighting back against Google. One man has already filed a lawsuit against Google (click here)

For more information on all of this, please click here

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Google Caught Spying On Apple’s Iphone And Safari Users!

Oh…my…goodness…you won’t believe what Google has been caught doing yesterday – well, actually, you will if you’ve been following my postings on this site – but it still doesn’t make it any less shocking!

Big Google has been caught, outed, by a Stanford University researcher for spying on all the online activity of Apple users. The researcher, Jonathan Mayer, documented his findings in a blog post he wrote and which the Wall Street Journal picked up. After the Wall Street Journal ran the story Thursday night, it spread like wildfire. Now all the major newspapers and television news programs are informing its readers and viewers about the latest major privacy violation by Google.

As many of you know, Apple has its own browser which it calls Safari. According to some estimates, Safari accounts for 6% of desktop Internet browsing and 50% of mobile Internet browsing. I have explained on here before that websites you visit put a tracking device on your browser to record everything you do on their site.  Some of these tracking tools will even stay on your browser long after you’ve left the website that put it there in the first place. These tracking devices are called “cookies”. The word “cookie” might sound all innocent – just like how Google’s use of primary colors for its logo might look all innocent- but they are anything but innocent.

These cookies have the capability to really figure you out. They will record every link you click on, how you are engaging with the website, and even how long you stay on a particular page to gauge your interest in that page.

Apple’s web browser, Safari, blocks cookies from being set on their browser. The company does not feel the need to have those tracking devices, and they don’t think that it’s in the best interest of its users. Therefore, Apple took a responsible approach and a revolutionary approach in not allowing cookies on its browser. Apple was smart enough to care about its users so much so that they even made sure the default setting for Safari was set so that cookies was disabled. Now, this default setting is crucial! That’s because many people do not change their default settings and just keep the browser the same way as it came originally.

A little over a week ago, February 8th, I wrote how Google is an advertising-based business that depends on advertising for over 90% of its revenues. I informed you of a man named Christopher Soghoian, a Washington, D.C.-based graduate fellow at the Center for Applied Cyber-Security Research. He made a speech at a security summit where he said that companies that depend heavily on advertising couldn’t care less about your privacy. For these companies, the profits that come from advertising always trump the protection of consumers. In that same speech, Mr. Soghoian made sure to congratulate Apple because the company takes the “responsible route” when it comes to protecting its users. Apple, which does not depend on advertisers to keep its business strong and profitable, has taken steps to secure its users from intrusive activity spying. You can read my entire post on this by clicking here

Google, on the other hand, has done the complete opposite of what Apple has done. Google’s browser, Chrome, is the only browser that does not block tracking. I have already explained why Google does not think it is in their interest to protect the personal data of its users.

Now – we have learned that Google was not only neglecting to protect its own users on Chrome but Google was also deliberately exposing Apple users to tracking too!! Google employees found a loophole around Apple’s anti-tracking browser and exploited that loophole to expose users to tracking without their knowledge whatsoever. Google figured out that if the Safari browser thought a user was filling out a form on the web it allowed cookies to function because the browser assumed you trusted the site enough to give it your personal data.

This was the way in for Google and now it could start tracking Apple’s users. If you want a detailed explanation on how this actually works, take a look at this illustration by the Wall Street Journal – click here.

After being caught spying, Google had this to say:

“We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers”

Even though Google deliberately circumvented default privacy setting on Apple’s web browser, they release a statement playing dumb – acting all innocent. Please! Save it!

Google often plays dumb when it is caught red-handed, like it did two years ago when its Street View service collected personal information from WiFi networks and when the US Department of Justice busted Google aiding and abetting a con artist to commit his crimes (to learn more on this, click here)

Now, as you can imagine, people are outraged at Google for spying on innocent unsuspecting people. Apple is also outraged and the company said it will take further steps to protect its users from companies like Google exploiting loopholes in its browser to spy on its users.

Members of Congress want to set up new meetings with Google to grill them yet again on privacy violations. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif said,

“Google has some tough new questions to answer in the wake of this latest privacy flap, and that’s why I am asking them to come in for another briefing…these types of incidents continue to create consumer concerns about how their personal information is used and shared”

Several other members of Congress have even contacted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open a new investigation on Google. This time, even members of the US Senate have weighed in on this latest privacy violation by indicating that Google may also have to answer to the Senate.

Google, you’re a disgrace.

For more information:   Wired.com has an article on this story (click here)

USA Today has an article on this story (click here)

CBS News article (click here)

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Federal Court Forces The FTC To Take Lawsuit Against Google More Seriously

Last week, I published on this site a post I wrote and titled – “Google is sued over privacy violations and breaking terms of settlement“. In that post, I discussed how a privacy advocacy group, The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), sued the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for not doing its job adequately. If you need further detail on this, please go read that post first and then return to this one: click here

Okay, so after EPIC filed its complaint to legally force the FTC to punish Google for breaking the terms of settlement – the FTC tried to delay the process by claiming that EPIC’s complaint was without merit and that they would need an extended period of time to even review the complaint anyway. Of course, EPIC was not going to let the FTC stall for time because time is of the essence in this case as the changes to Google’s privacy policies takes effect on the 1st of March. EPIC demanded a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction designed to compel the FTC to enforce the consent order it placed on Google.

A federal court then stepped in last Thursday, February 9th, and told the FTC that its dismissal of the complaint filed by EPIC as being without merit was ridiculous. The court then forced the FTC to respond to EPIC’s complaint no later than Friday, February 17th. The court then added that EPIC will need to respond to the FTC’s investigation by the following Tuesday, February 21st.

EPIC had this to say,

“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.”

As part of settlement Google made with the FTC after the whole major Google Buzz privacy violation, Google was told that it has to file mandatory “privacy compliance” reports with the FTC on a regular basis for 20 years. The first of these reports was submitted by Google to the FTC back in January, 26th, 2012. However, this self-assessment report was only made public last Friday, February 10th. EPIC actually filed a Freedom of Information Act request to retrieve the document from the FTC – but before the request could get fully processed, Google decided to release it publicly voluntarily before it would legally be forced out anyway.

Google gave the report to the political journalism website Politico and they published an article about it they very same day, as revealed yesterday by John Fontana of ZDNet.com

Okay – I have complained on here before about the way the news media covers Google and how they handle the company with kid gloves. Please do not think that I pull this observation of bias and lousy journalism out of thin air. I only report what I plainly see and what’s so evident to me.

Take for example this Politico article the website published last Friday regarding the privacy compliance report by Google and EPIC. Politico titled their article: “Google tells FTC of progress on privacy“. Now, that title alone is incredibly biased in favor of Google. You don’t even need to read the entire article because that title alone is so silly – I mean, “progress on privacy”? C’mon! That’s what Google claims, not fact!

All I am saying that the headline is not balanced and objective enough, but it’s to be expected considering that Google did after all hand deliver the report to the website and then they wrote a flattering article as a ‘thank you’.

You can read that article for yourself. But be warned though – the article defends Google a lot and paints EPIC as unreasonable whiners. Click here.

Anyhow, after the report was made public, EPIC obviously responded to it. EPIC says that the report actually now raises new questions about Google’s failure to comply with the FTC consent order. The order required Google to answer, in detail, questions regarding how it protects the personal information of its users. EPIC argued that Google chose not to answer many questions – most significantly, Google failed to explain how the changes to its privacy policies next month will impact users.

Moreover, in Google’s report, it states:

“An email will be sent to every Google Account holder, except those associated with enterprise (Google Apps) customers. A separate email will be sent to the registered administrators of Google Apps domains, so that they notify their users as they see fit.”

This means that Google sent out emails to every single person who has an account with Google’s free email service, Gmail. The emails have the subject line “Changes to Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service“. Google also claims that it sent out these same emails only to companies that use its technology to power their email service, but it only sent them to administrators and not every single person.

However, there have been complaints in Britain from people who use Virgin Media and Sky email services receiving these emails from Google too. People were upset that Google knew their email address and that the company was sending them emails on changes to privacy policies even though they are not Google users. People got creeped out by Google knowing stuff about them that even they had no idea Google knew.

Google claimed that it was glitch and that the emails should have only been sent to administrators. However, others have come forward claiming that they also received emails from Google even though they don’t hold accounts with Google at all and their email service is not affiliated with Google in any way whatsoever. Personally, I have also received that email into one of my email inbox and I have no connection to Google at all. There is more to this than Google is willing to tell us and it certainly is creepy.

The FTC’s response to EPIC’s lawsuit is due this coming Friday – I will keep you posted on how this develops.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center have a website of their own, you can visit it by clicking here

PCPro.co.uk.com article explaning the emails Google sent to people who do not hold Gmail accounts, click here

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Google Is Sued Over Privacy Violations And Breaking Terms Of Settlement

 A privacy advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Google to stop them from harvesting personal information of people who use their services. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed the complaint against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for not doing enough to protect users from privacy violations and for not fulfilling the requirements of a previous settlement against Google.

If you do not already know, let me fill you in: Two year ago, February 2010, Google launched a social networking tool called Google Buzz. This was the first desperate attempt by Google to try to get their foot in the door of social networking (before they launched their other big mistake called Google Plus). When Google introduced the tool into Gmail, its free online email service, it was completely mandatory. It did not allow for any sort of opt-in process and many people were kept in the dark about what exactly was happening to their personal email information.

Regardless of whether users wanted the Buzz tool or not, it was implemented anyhow. Once the Buzz tool was activated, it immediately gathered together a list of “followers” (kinda like Facebook friends). The “followers” of an individual were determined by a Google algorithm, which chose people to populate the Buzz list with persons who you most frequently interacted with in email exchanges. Google failed to inform people that their email contact list would be used in this way.

Once their “followers” and “following” lists were compiled, Google made those lists available to the general public. Google did not explicitly inform people that their information would be freely available on the web. This was a deep invasion of privacy and break of trust by Google. The contact list of users is incredibly sensitive and the world should not have to see who you are conversing with if you do not want that information out.

Many people said that this Google Buzz tool exposed people to danger. There are some American government officials who’ve used Gmail and their information was jeopardized. Google also made vulnerable human rights activists from repressive countries because all their contacts were exposed. CNET writer Molly Wood had this to say about Google Buzz:

“But I do have an expectation of privacy when it comes to my e-mail, and I think that even in this age of social-networking TMI, most people still think of e-mail as a safe place for speaking privately with friends and family. And for Google to come along and broadcast that network to the world without asking first—and force you to turn it off after the fact—is, I think, both shocking and unacceptable.”

The repurposing of data Google has of you is not only deceptive but dangerous too. Soon after this launch of the Google Buzz tool, there was intense backlash against it and media scrutiny came from all places. This eventually resulted in EPIC filing a complaint with the FTC and a full investigation of Google soon after commenced. Just last fall, the Commission reached a settlement with Google, as a result, the company agreed to a consent order that prohibits Google from misrepresenting its privacy practices. In addition, Google agreed to file regular reports with the Commission. Google is now required to gain consent from users before Google can disclose private data, to comply with a strict privacy program, and is subject to a 20 year audit. Lastly, Google agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle privacy violation lawsuits.

Now, EPIC has filed another complaint against Google because of Google’s plans to consolidate all the information it has of users from all its services and for changing its privacy policies, which takes full effect starting next month. EPIC has a problem with Google changing its privacy policies and business practice just after they agreed to a consent order with the FTC this past October 2011. The advocacy group contends that this is a blatant violation of the settlement and is asking the FTC to investigate Google again.

EPIC’s lawyers said that Google is exposing its users to “grave risk” and that the FTC is required to enforce the consent order but have so far failed to so do. They went on to say,

“At a minimum, a comprehensive privacy program required by the consent order, which arose from the company’s attempt to combine user data from two discrete services, cannot permit the company to now engage in the same prohibited practice…Google ads are targeted to individual users based on information Google gathers about individual users…will make it possible for advertisers to gain access to personal information which was previously unavailable to them”

The complaint was launched yesterday, Wednesday, February 8th, 2012. The FTC has acknowledged the filing by EPIC but declined to comment specifically. They did have this to say though,

“The FTC takes compliance with our consent orders very seriously and always looks carefully at any evidence that they are being violated,” says spokeswoman Cecelia Prewett.

The FTC has the authority to levy fines of as much as $16,000 a day for each violation of consent orders. The case is Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Federal Trade Commission, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). I will definitely continue to keep an eye on this one – you should too.

To read the complaint EPIC filed against Google regarding Google Buzz, click here   (PDF file)

To read the complaint EPIC filed yesterday, click here (PDF file)

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