Google Agrees to Settle FTC Privacy Complaint About Google Buzz

Google has reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle a privacy controversy that flared up last year with the launch of Google Buzz.

Under the agreement, Google will establish a ’comprehensive privacy program’ to prevent the unwanted sharing of user information. According to the FTC, the settlement bars Google from ’further privacy misrepresentations…and calls for regular, independent pricay audits for the next 20 years.’

’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."

When Google launched its Buzz social network last year, many users complained the privacy controls were ineffective, and that users were mislead as to whether or not they could choose whether or not to join in the network.

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According to the FTC, when Google launched Buzz, its privacy policy stated that: ’When you sign up for a particular service that requires registration, we ask you to provide personal information. If we use this information in a manner different than the purpose for which it was collected, then we will ask for your consent prior to such use.’

In its complaint, the FTC charges Google violated its privacy policies by using information provided for Gmail for another purpose -- social networking -- without first obtaining consumers’ consent.

The agency also said that by offering options like ’Nah, go to my inbox,’ and ’Turn Off Buzz,’ Google misrepresented to consumers that clicked on these options would not be enrolled in Buzz when in fact they were enrolled in certain features of Buzz.

’The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control—letting our users and Google down,’ blogged Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering at Google. ’While we worked quickly to make improvements, regulators—including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission—unsurprisingly wanted more detail about what went wrong and how we could prevent it from happening again. Today, we’ve reached an agreement with the FTC to address their concerns.

’We’d like to apologize again for the mistakes we made with Buzz,’ Whitten added. ’While today’s announcement thankfully put this incident behind us, we are 100 percent focused on ensuring that our new privacy procedures effectively protect the interests of all our users going forward.’

The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through May 2, 2011, after which the commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.