Consumer Watchdog Calls On Federal Trade Commission To Act Against Google's App Store Privacy Violations; Says Penalties Should

 Consumer Watchdog Calls On Federal Trade Commission To Act Against Google's
App Store Privacy Violations; Says Penalties Should Be In Billions of Dollars

PR Newswire

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 25, 2013

Public Interest Group Also Asks California Attorney General to Investigate

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SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --Consumer
Watchdog today called on the Federal Trade Commission to act immediately
against Google's most recent privacy violation – sharing users' personal
information with apps developers – and said the penalties for violating a
previous consent order should reach into the billions of dollars.

Consumer Watchdog also asked California Attorney General Kamala Harris to
investigate whether Google's privacy breach also violates California law in
addition to violating the so-called "Buzz Consent Order" with the FTC.

"Google has become a serial privacy abuser and the FTC must change its tactics
to curb the Internet giant's abuses. Google's wanton disregard for its
obligations under the law demonstrate the need for meaningful penalties – in
this case a fine in the billions of dollars," said John M. Simpson, Consumer
Watchdog's Privacy Project director, at a news conference to discuss the
nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group's complaint.

In a seven-page formal letter of complaint to Charles A. Harwood, the FTC's
Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Simpson, wrote:

"To no one's surprise (and the Commission's prior statements notwithstanding),
the press is now awash in reports that Google has violated the Buzz Order yet
again – and this time in a most substantive and egregious manner, by giving
personal and closely held information from tens (if not hundreds) of millions
of Android users to independent and unrestrained application developers, in
contravention of Google's own stated privacy policy (as well as its
obligations under the Buzz Order). This represents the fifth significant
misuse of confidential user data by Google in the last three years
(previously, the "Wi-Spy" scandal, the Google Buzz fiasco, Google's improper
combining and use of personal data, and the Safari Hacking episode)."

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to the FTC here:

Consumer Watchdog's letter said Google had been sending to app developers
personal information about each user who purchased an app from Google, without
obtaining the user's permission. The personal information sent by Google
included the users' names, certain physical address information and email
addresses. Neither Apple nor Microsoft had engaged in similar conduct.
Consumer Watchdog's letter warned:

"Google's conduct constitutes a most serious breach of user privacy. Google
Play apps deal with sensitive personal subjects, including health conditions
and sexual activity. By disclosing personal user information to app
developers, Google enables the identification of people who downloaded apps
such as:

  o"Depression App Counselor: an app designed to help people suffering from
    depression to manage their symptoms.
  o"Pregnancy+: an app for expectant parents.
  o"Heart Disease: an app for people concerned that they are at risk of
    heart disorders.
  o"Utoopi: a former app (now removed) 'used for the purposes of
    advertising, soliciting and recruiting sex workers.'

"Many Google app developers are young people. Google's disclosure of personal
user information to these developers makes it possible for them to further
disseminate the information. App developers can, for example, sell lists of
customers to marketing services and data brokers – who will, in turn, sell the
information to others."

Consumer Watchdog's letter noted that the group had gone to court to block the
FTC's $22.5 million settlement with Google in the "Safari Hacking episode"
because it "was inadequate to deter future Google violations of the Buzz Order
because the settlement lacked a court injunction proscribing future
violations, contained an express denial of liability by Google, and imposed a
manifestly inadequate civil penalty."

Consumer Watchdog said now that Google has once again breached the Buzz
Consent Order, the FTC must use new tactics.

"The strategy of initiating enforcement procedures by proposing a settlement
followed by secret negotiations and a toothless decree has brought the
Commission little beyond public condemnation. And consumers have not been
protected adequately by the Commission's enforcement actions," the letter
said. "We suggest, this time around, that the Commission begin its
enforcement procedure by assigning a team of trial litigators – people who can
actually conduct a trial – to the latest Google transgression and that these
lawyers actually bring suit in federal court against Google for the latest
violation of the Buzz Order. The complaint should seek injunctive relief
sufficient to enforce compliance to the Buzz Order through contempt actions,
as well as an appropriate civil penalty – which, as we explain below, will run
into the billions of dollars."

The law provides a penalty of $16,000 per violation. Millions of apps have
been purchased and downloaded. "Calculating the amount of the penalty is a
simple matter of multiplication. The number is enormous (in the billions of
dollars), and only a penalty of that magnitude will deter Google from future
violation of the Buzz Order," Consumer Watchdog's letter said.

The letter recapped Google's privacy violations over the last three years
including the Wi-Spy scandal, the Buzz fiasco, Google's improper combining
data across services without consent and the Safari Hacking episode. The
letter spelled out how the FTC's actions and tactics have proved inadequate in
an attempt to thwart Google's abuses against privacy.

Gary Reback, an attorney with Carr & Ferrel, in Menlo Park, CA., assisted
Consumer Watchdog in preparing its formal complaint to the FTC.

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to the FTC here:

Visit our website at

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog

Contact: John Simpson, +1-310-392-7041, cell: +1-310-292-1902, or Jamie Court,
+1-310-392-0075, or Carmen Balber, +1-202-629-3043
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