Google settles FTC privacy complaint

Google has conceded another battle over user privacy, agreeing to settle a case brought by the US Federal Trade Commission over the set-up of its Buzz social network in 2010.
A proposed settlement bans the search giant from misrepresenting its privacy policy in future, requires it to implement a wide-reaching privacy program, and leaves the firm open to independent audits of the scheme for the next 20 years. The FTC has 30 days to decide whether to accept the proposed settlement, based on a public consultation.
Google was responding to an FTC complaint that it violated its own privacy rules when signing Gmail users up to Buzz at its launch in February 2010. The Commission claims users who declined to join the network were signed up regardless, while those who voluntarily joined Buzz were not told that details of the people they e-mailed the most would be made public.
In doing so, Google broke its privacy pledge by using information collected for its e-mail service for another purpose without first gaining user’s permission. The FTC also claims Google broke a voluntary safe harbor agreement governing the use of personal data from EU citizens in the US.
“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,” FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz notes, adding. “When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them.”
The case is the latest in a string of privacy gaffes by Google in the past year – the most widespread of which was the collection of private Wi-Fi data by its fleet of StreetView cars, which has prompted probes in several global markets.