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Watchdog Lawsuit Seeks Google Privacy Policy Review

Watchdog Lawsuit Seeks Google Privacy Policy Review
By Mark Long

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The lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, contends the new all-in-one privacy policy violates the terms of a prior settlement between Google and the FTC. EPIC's lawyers asked the court to impose a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Google's new privacy policy from going into effect.
 

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A U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed Thursday to expedite a lawsuit filed against the Federal Trade Commission for failing to review Google's recent decision to consolidate the privacy policies governing its Web sites and services.

Filed Wednesday by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, the suit contends that the new all-in-one privacy policy violates the terms of a prior settlement between Google and the FTC.

EPIC's lawyers asked the court to impose a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Google's new policy from going into effect March 1.

EPIC Had Sued Over Google Buzz

Under the expedited rules, the FTC is required to respond to EPIC's latest briefs by Feb. 17. EPIC's reply is then due Feb. 21.

"The FTC has a non-discretionary obligation to enforce a final order," EPIC's lawyers wrote in a new brief. "But the agency has thus far failed to take any action regarding this matter, placing the privacy interests of literally hundreds of millions Internet users at grave risk."

Last year, EPIC contested several privacy aspects of the search-engine giant's plans for Google Buzz -- an online service that would have compiled and made public a Gmail user's social-networking list based on address book and Gchat list contacts.

In response, the FTC issued a consent order in October 2011, which EPIC's lawyers contend prevents "Google from misrepresenting the company's privacy practices, requires the company to obtain users' consent before disclosing personal data, and requires the company to develop and comply with a comprehensive privacy program."

Google Declines European Pause Request

Earlier this month, the Article 29 Working Party -- an independent European advisory body on data protection and privacy -- called on Google to pause its new privacy policy implementation plans.

"Given the wide range of services you offer, and popularity of these services, changes in your privacy policy may affect many citizens in most or all of the EU member states," said Article 29 Working Party Chairman Jacob Kohnstamm. Therefore, the pause is necessary to ensure "that there can be no misunderstanding about Google's commitments to information rights of their users and EU citizens, until we have completed our analysis."

Microsoft Seeks An Edge

In its response to Kohnstamm's letter, Google said it had already pre-briefed European Union authorities about the coming changes and had no plans to delay its implementation beyond March 1.

"At no stage did any EU regulator suggest that any sort of pause would be appropriate," replied Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer. "Since we finished these extensive briefings, we have notified over 350 million Google account holders, as well as providing highly visible notices to all our non-authenticated users."

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been seeking to leverage consumer concerns about Google's privacy policy changes as a way to attract users to its own family of online offerings, including Hotmail, Bing, Office 365 and Internet Explorer.

Earlier this month, the software giant launched a swath of newspaper ads criticizing Google's privacy policy change. According to Microsoft, every data point Google collects and connects to individual users is for the purpose of increasing how valuable they are to advertisers.

"We take a different approach," wrote Microsoft Corporate Vice President Frank Shaw in a blog. "We work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data, and to offer you the choice of saving your information on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on both."
 

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

ErinN:

Posted: 2012-02-16 @ 10:18am PT
Peter Fleischer misses "the elephant in the room" point. Sure, they may have notified over 350 Google account holders and provided highly visible notices but they don't inform people about what exactly signing their privacy policy means nor do they ask fairly. It's basically agree to this or don't use any of our products. Considering how intermingled most people's lives are using Google products, their privacy policy is just plain wrong. Why the FTC is slow to jump on this matter raises it's own questions. That's why this petition was started on change.org asking Google to ask fairly about our privacy http://chn.ge/x6A8ca Read it and become informed.



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