FTC sued over planned Google privacy changes


(STEPHEN HIRD/REUTERS)

The Electronic Privacy and Information Center said in its complaint that Google’s planned privacy policy changes violate a settlement the company reached with the FTC last summer. That agreement was struck after federal law enforcement found Google violated privacy laws by exposing Gmail users’ personal information when rolling out its now defunct social networking service, Google Buzz.

Beginning March 1, Google plans to merge data collected from users of Gmail with information tracked about that user across the company’s 60 other services. Google has said the changes will only apply to users logged onto Gmail or other services.

But EPIC said the company misrepresents how it plans to use the information, which would largely be for behavioral advertising. The privacy group said Google also violates its settlement, or consent decree, by forcing the changes on users without the ability to opt out of the changes and maintain their sign-in accounts.

“The imminent change in Google’s business practices threatens the same customer interests that the FTC’s consent decree sought to protect,” EPIC said in its suit filed at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. “If the FTC does not act to prevent the change, all Google users, including EPIC, face an imminent harm that is both certain and great.”

The changes also concern some lawmakers, who have called on the company to explain the changes. And the E.U. has asked Google to delay its rollout of new privacy policies as it investigates how the changes will affect consumers.

EPIC filed the original complaint about Google Buzz privacy violations that led to the FTC charges.

The FTC didn’t answer specific questions about Google’s new policy changes. But spokeswoman Claudia Farrell said, “The FTC takes compliance with our consent orders very seriously and always looks carefully at any evidence that they are being violated,”

Google has defended its privacy policy changes by saying it isn’t seeking to collect more information about users. It also says users can choose to use its search engine and YouTube, for examples, without being account holders.

“Our updated privacy policy will make it easier to understand our privacy commitments, and we’ve undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history to ensure that users have many opportunities to learn about the changes,” Google said in a statement.

Related:

E.U. asks Google to delay new privacy changes

Google responds to lawmakers’ privacy concerns

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

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