Agrees to New Privacy Terms with FTC

By Cindy Waxer March 31, 2011

Google and the Federal Trade Commission have reached an agreement over the types of privacy policies that now govern the tech giant’s Buzz platform.

According to the FTC, Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010. That’s because Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network. However, the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective. As for users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and difficult to find, the agency alleged.

In response to the Buzz launch, Google received thousands of complaints from consumers who were concerned about public disclosure of their email contacts which included, in some cases, ex-spouses, patients, students, employers or competitors. According to the FTC complaint, Google made certain changes to the Buzz product in response to those complaints.

In December, columnist Susan J. Campbell ranked Google Buzz as one 2010’s Top 10 Technology Flops. Campbell wroteIs there still hope for Google Buzz? This platform was designed to be Google’s entry into the social networking realm as the Internet and search giant couldn’t stand to be outpaced by Facebook. Google got off on the wrong foot with its lazy approach to privacy and the fix seemed just an afterthought. Google is likely to push Google Me instead and Google Buzz may have to just rest in peace.”: “

Under the proposed settlement, Google will be barred from future privacy misrepresentations, and is required to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and oversee regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. This is the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information.

In addition, this is the first time the FTC has alleged violations of the substantive privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States.

“When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, in a statement. “This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations."

Edited by Janice McDuffee

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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