[LINK] Google going social

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Thu Mar 31 20:47:37 AEDT 2011

> Google is looking at moving strongly into the "social layer" of usage.
> The world should be getting serious about online privacy real soon now.

For Release: 03/30/2011


FTC Charges Deceptive Privacy Practices in Google's Rollout of Its Buzz 
Social Network

Google Agrees to Implement Comprehensive Privacy Program to Protect 
Consumer Data

Google Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it 
used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers 
when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010. 

The agency alleges the practices violate the FTC Act. 

The proposed settlement bars the company from future privacy 
misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy 
program, and calls for regular, independent privacy audits for the next 
20 years. 

This is the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to 
implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of 
consumers’ information. 

In addition, this is the first time the FTC has alleged violations of the 
substantive privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, 
which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data 
lawfully from the European Union to the United States.

“When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them,” said Jon 
Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “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."

According to the FTC complaint, Google launched its Buzz social network 
through its Gmail web-based email product. Although Google led Gmail 
users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to 
join the network, the options for declining or leaving the social network 
were ineffective. For users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for 
limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and 
difficult to find, the agency alleged. 

On the day Buzz was launched, Gmail users got a message announcing the 
new service and were given two options: “Sweet! Check out Buzz,” 
and “Nah, go to my inbox.” 

However, the FTC complaint alleged that some Gmail users who clicked 
on “Nah...” were nonetheless enrolled in certain features of the Google 
Buzz social network. 

For those Gmail users who clicked on “Sweet!,” the FTC alleges that they 
were not adequately informed that the identity of individuals they 
emailed most frequently would be made public by default. 

Google also offered a “Turn Off Buzz” option that did not fully remove 
the user from the social network. 

In response to the Buzz launch, Google received thousands of complaints 
from consumers who were concerned about public disclosure of their email 
contacts which included, in some cases, ex-spouses, patients, students, 
employers, or competitors. According to the FTC complaint, Google made 
certain changes to the Buzz product in response to those complaints.

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.” 

The FTC complaint charges that Google violated its privacy policies by 
using information provided for Gmail for another purpose - social 
networking - without obtaining consumers’ permission in advance.

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

The complaint further alleges that a screen that asked consumers 
enrolling in Buzz, “How do you want to appear to others?” indicated that 
consumers could exercise control over what personal information would be 
made public. The FTC charged that Google failed to disclose adequately 
that consumers’ frequent email contacts would become public by default.

Finally, the agency alleges that Google misrepresented that it was 
treating personal information from the European Union in accordance with 
the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor privacy framework. The framework is a voluntary 
program administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation 
with the European Commission. To participate, a company must self-certify 
annually to the Department of Commerce that it complies with a defined 
set of privacy principles. The complaint alleges that Google’s assertion 
that it adhered to the Safe Harbor principles was false because the 
company failed to give consumers notice and choice before using their 
information for a purpose different from that for which it was collected. 

The proposed settlement bars Google from misrepresenting the privacy or 
confidentiality of individuals’ information or misrepresenting compliance 
with the U.S.-E.U Safe Harbor or other privacy, security, or compliance 

The settlement requires the company to obtain users’ consent before 
sharing their information with third parties if Google changes its 
products or services in a way that results in information sharing that is 
contrary to any privacy promises made when the user’s information was 

The settlement further requires Google to establish and maintain a 
comprehensive privacy program, and it requires that for the next 20 
years, the company have audits conducted by independent third parties 
every two years to assess its privacy and data protection practices.

Google’s data practices in connection with its launch of Google Buzz were 
the subject of a complaint filed with the FTC by the Electronic Privacy 
Information Center shortly after the service was launched.

The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and accept the 
consent agreement package containing the proposed consent order for 
public comment was 5-0. Commissioner Rosch concurs with accepting, 
subject to final approval, the consent order for the purpose of public 
comment. The reasons for his concurrence are described in a separate 

The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in 
the Federal Register shortly. 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. Interested parties can submit written comments 
electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in 
the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” 
section. Comments in electronic form should be submitted using the 
following web link: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/googlebuzz
and following the instructions on the web-based form. Comments in paper 
form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office 
of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., 
Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in 
paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier 
or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the 
Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to 
heightened security precautions. 

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it 
has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and 
it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. 
The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has actually 
violated the law. A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and 
does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been 
violated. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it 
carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation 
of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, 
deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to 
help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or 
Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). 

The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online 
database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement 
agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free 
information on a variety of consumer topics. 

“Like” the FTC on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter.

Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs

Kathryn Ratté
Bureau of Consumer Protection



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