Google Privacy Changes Should Be Stopped, Consumer Group Says

Google Inc.’s planned changes to its privacy policy are deceptive, violate a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and should be stopped, an advocacy group said in a federal complaint.

The plan to streamline privacy settings for about 60 different services and products on March 1 is primarily aimed at targeting users with advertising relevant to their interests, not making Google easier to use, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in a complaint filed today with the FTC.

“Google fails to tell users in its principal privacy-change communications how such data collection, profiling, and targeting practices impact -- and potentially harm -- their privacy,” Chester wrote in the complaint. “Google presents the information in a deceptive way that suggests consumers will benefit from the new policy.”

The Center for Digital Democracy, which has also urged the FTC to address privacy issues at Facebook Inc. and other online marketers, asked the FTC to sue Google to stop the policy change and to fine the company. The FTC can levy fines of $16,000 per day, per violation, for breaches of consent decrees.

Another privacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, sued the FTC in federal court Feb. 8 seeking to force the agency to act against Google’s new privacy policy. A judge is weighing a U.S. motion to dismiss the case.

User Data

The agency’s settlement with Google last year, which barred sharing user data outside the company without clear permission, stemmed from a complaint EPIC filed in 2010.

Chris Gaither, a spokesman for Google, said in an e-mail that the new policy will make privacy practices easier to understand and Google’s services easier to use.

“We’ve undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history,” he said. “We’re continuing to offer choice and control over how people use our services.”

Claudia Bourne Farrell, a spokeswoman for the FTC, said the agency had received the complaint and declined to comment further.

Google, the world’s most-popular search engine, announced plans on Jan. 24 to unify privacy policies for products including YouTube videos and Android software for mobile phones, saying it will simplify conditions users agree to.

It also means Google will be able to pull together everything it knows about users from its disparate products. A consumer’s YouTube viewing history can be used to tailor results in Google Search while an individual’s search history will enable more relevant ads across Google products, Google’s Gaither said.

Consent Decree

Under the consent decree announced March 30, Mountain View, California-based Google agreed it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy policies when it introduced its Buzz social-networking service in 2010.

The 20-year settlement bars Google from misrepresenting how it handles information and obliges the company to follow policies that protect consumer data in new products.

Google’s new privacy policy is also under review by data-protection agencies in Europe, which have asked the company to delay introducing the new policy pending that review.

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