John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Buzz Kill: FTC Urged to Investigate Google Privacy Flap


This is obviously not to the sort of buzz Google was hoping for when it launched its new social networking service.

Little more than a month after the bungled launch of Buzz and the company has already accumulated quite a pile of complaints over breaches in consumer privacy that went along with it.

In February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Buzz, claiming it violates federal consumer protection law.

A few weeks later, outgoing FTC commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour publicly decried Buzz’s rollout as “irresponsible” and accused Google of attempting to “stretch the privacy envelope.”

Now, a group of eleven U.S. lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee is calling upon the FTC to investigate Buzz as well.

“We are writing to express our concern over claims that Google’s ‘Google Buzz’ social networking tool breaches online consumer privacy and trust,” the group said in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Due to the high number of individuals whose online privacy is affected by tools like this–either directly or indirectly–we feel that these claims warrant the commission’s review of Google’s public disclosure of personal information of consumers through Google Buzz.”

The letter continues by suggesting the FTC ask the following four questions to Google:

  1. How will Google revise the Gmail privacy policy, notify consumers, and obtain consent for this change in the company’s privacy practices?
  2. Since Google Buzz was launched on Feb. 9, 2010, how many consumers are deactivated or opted out of the Google Buzz services?
  3. To what extent does Google use the consumer information collected through Buzz and other Google services for the purposes of delivering online advertising?
  4. If the Commission approves Google’s acquisition of AdMob, to what extent will the combined entity use the consumer information collected through other Google products and services for the purposes of delivering advertising?

The answers to these questions would, I’m sure, be quite telling. Not that Google (GOOG) is particularly interested in answering them. Why would the company when it seems so confident that it has already resolved the issues in question?

Said a Google spokesperson: “User choice and transparency are top of mind for us. When we realized that we had unintentionally made users unhappy, we worked quickly to make immediate changes.”

[Image credit: Asaf Hanuka, Tropical Toxic]


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik