Pressure on Google over privacy problems mounts


(BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Tuesday pursued its lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission — a move aimed at getting the agency to fine Google over a new policy that advocates say would violate user privacy.

EPIC said that recent revelations that Google may have purposefully worked around the privacy settings of Apple’s Safari browser show the firm needs to be punished for its behavior.

“The Safari hack provides more evidence that Google should be barred from making the proposed changes on March 1,” said Mark Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. On March 1, Google plans to combine data from users’ Gmail across its 60 services to be used for behavioral advertising. Account holders to Google’s services cannot opt out of the new system.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer engineers said Monday that Google could be also bypassing privacy settings on its browser, which Google denies.

The FTC on Friday asked the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to dismiss EPIC’s suit, saying it was without merit. EPIC wants the court to order the FTC to enforce penalties for alleged violations of Google’s June 2011 privacy settlement with the agency.

Despite its reaction to the lawsuit, the FTC may already be investigating Google on violations of its settlement. The penalties could be astronomical — up to $16,000 per day of violation. The FTC could also take into account how many people have signed up for the company’s service (350 million Gmail users) in reaching a settlement over fines.

Google has defended its practices, saying it has clearly informed users of its March 1 changes.

The company faces a separate lawsuit in a Delaware federal court on the alleged Safari browser violation. The company has declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Related:

Google plans sweeping privacy changes March 1

A closer look at Google's response to Safari accusations

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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