The Circuit: Google+ now 13+, Twitter’s censorship tool, AT&T supports House spectrum bill

LEADING THE DAY:Google, facing growing scrutiny over its approach to consumer privacy, said Thursday it would open its social networking site to teenagers, The Washington Post reported. The decision matches the policies of its rivals, such as Facebook and MySpace. The move comes as some privacy advocates and lawmakers are seeking special protections for teens online, particularly on social networks where they tend to avidly share information about themselves. It also comes after a controversial decision this week by Google to change its privacy policy.

Lawmakers have already started noting their concerns with Google’s policy, the Post reported.

Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) joined six other lawmakers sent a letter to Google chief executive Larry Page on Thursday, asking whether the new policy will harm consumers. They were particularly interested in why Google account holders, who want to plug into the company’s services, cannot opt out of the new privacy policy.

Separately, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) asked the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to investigate whether the new policy violates a recent privacy agreement. Google last summer settled a complaint brought by the FTC, which charged that the firm violated consumer privacy by exposing Gmail contact lists to users of the now defunct social network Google Buzz.

In related news, Google clarified that its new policy will not apply to government and enterprise customers, because individual client contracts govern the terms of those agreements.

Twitter censorship tool: On Thursday, Twitter published a post to its company blog outlining a new tool that will enable the company to block specific tweets on a country-by-country basis.

“Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world,” the post read, in part. “We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”

According to Twitter spokesman Matt Graves, for any content the company withholds, it will first notify the user where legally possible, provide notice to users in the country that blocks the content when a message has been withheld, and will continue to make the content available in every other part of the world.

AT&T calls for FCC limits on spectrum auctions: In an earnings call, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson called for Congress to pass legislation that would impose strict rules on spectrum auctions conducted by the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has said the House spectrum bill, as written, could unfairly allow for the nation’s largest wireless carriers — Verizon and AT&T — to purchase all of the available airwaves in an auction.

AT&T earnings beat analysts estimates, reporting sales of $32.5 billion for its last quarter.

Video Privacy Protection Act: Ahead of testimony from Netflix general counsel David Hyman at a Jan. 31 hearing on the Video Privacy Protection Act, Netflix highlighted its fight to “modernize and simplify” the Video Privacy Protection Act to allow the company to integrate its services with Facebook in the United States.

In its earnings release, Netflix said that it is working to “modernize and simplify” the 1988 law, which prohibits video rental stores from sharing customer rental records without customer permission. The company supported a bill that passed the House last month which specified that video service providers who obtain “informed, written content” from their customers may release those records.

Direct TV, Sunbeam resolve deal: In time for the Super Bowl, Direct TV and Sunbeam have resolved a retransmission disagreement has blacked out three local channels. Both parties wanted to resolve the issue to prevent blocking a broadcast of the Super Bowl showdown between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

In a statement, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he was “grateful that cooler heads prevailed and that satellite service will not be interrupted” for the game. Kerry had sent letters to both parties to urge them to air the game regardless of their dispute.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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