The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee

EPIC is Suing the FTC to Compel Enforcement of Google Buzz Consent Order

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is suing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to compel the federal agency to enforce the October 2011 Google Buzz consent order, In the Matter of Google, Inc., FTC File No. 102 3136, which was issued following a complaint filed by EPIC with the FTC in February 2010.

 

Pursuant to this consent order, Google may not misrepresent the extent to which it maintains and protects the privacy and confidentiality of the information it collects, including the purposes for which the information is collected, and the extent to which consumers may exercise control over the collection, use, or disclosure of this information. Also, Google must obtain the express affirmative consent of Google users before making any new or additional sharing of information to third parties, which must be identified, and the purpose(s) for sharing the information must be disclosed to Google users. The consent order also requires Google to establish and implement a comprehensive privacy program.

 

Google announced in last January changes in its privacy policy, which will be effective March 1, 2012. Google will then start collecting user data across all the different Google sites, such as Gmail or YouTube, provided that the user logged into her Google account. Ms. Alma Whitten, Google’s Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering, stated that Google can thus provide “a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.” A Google user will have one single Google profile. There is, however, no opt-out available. The new privacy policy states that:

 

We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services. If other users already have your email, or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo.”

 

According to EPIC’s complaint, these changes are “in clear violation of [Google] prior commitments to the Federal Trade Commission.” EPIC is arguing that Google violated the Consent Order “by misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains and protects the privacy and confidentiality of [users] information, by misrepresenting the extent to which it complies with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework… [and] by failing to obtain affirmative consent from users prior to sharing their information with third parties.

 

Indeed, the European Union (EU) is also concerned by these changes. The Article 29 Working Party sent a letter to Google on February 2, to inform the California company that it will “check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of [E.U. Member States ]citizensof these changes. Google answered to the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), France’s Data Protection Authority, in charge of coordinating the enquiry into Google Privacy changes, that changes were made in order to insure that Google’s privacy policy is “simpler and more understandable” and also “to create a better user experience.”

 

Meanwhile, EPIC is arguing that the FTC has a non-discretionary obligation to enforce a final order, yet has not yet taken any action with respect to changes ahead in Google’s privacy policy.

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Author: marieandreeweiss

Marie-Andrée was educated in France and in the United States, and holds law degrees from both countries. She is fully bilingual English-French, and writes articles regularly in these two languages on various privacy-related topics. Marie-Andrée is a member of the Bar of the State of New York. As an attorney in solo practice, she focuses on intellectual property, First Amendment, privacy, and Internet-related issues. Before becoming an attorney, she worked several years in the fashion retail industry, as a buyer then a director of marketing. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association (Intellectual Property Section and International Section), and of the American Bar Association (Business Law Section, Section of Antitrust Law, and Section of Intellectual Property Law)

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