Privacy Groups Blast Google Policy Change

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They are urging the FTC to claw back profits, saying fines are meaningless to Google

Consumer groups have filed a formal challenge to Google's change in privacy policy, implemented back in June.

In a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), several organizations charge that the changes allow Google more ground to assemble profiles on people who surf the web.

Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse maintain that Google violated the law, as well as an earlier consent agreement, when it changed its privacy policy. Those changes, the groups charge, were forced on consumers in “a highly deceptive manner” without sufficient notice.

Buzz Consent Agreement

Specifically, the groups say the change violates the “Buzz Consent Agreement,” put in place after Google released users' personal data when it launched Buzz, its ill-fated social media network. When it signed that agreement in 2011, Google promised not to misuse users' private information.

That consent agreement with the FTC also requires Google to obtain informed consent from users before sharing that information with third parties. The groups charge Google's privacy policy change in June violates both provisions of that agreement.

The groups want the FTC to claw back the advertising revenue Google has earned since the date of the change. That, they say, is the only way to get the huge company's attention.

"Fines Google has faced so far are but pocket change for Google,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director. “The company's executives consider it merely the cost of doing business as they willfully violate our privacy. The FTC must take meaningful action and force Google to give up its ill-gotten gains."

Google says it did nothing wrong

In a statement to The Washington Post, Google denied that it acted in a deceptive manner. The company said it only made the changes after testing them among users worldwide.

But Simpson calls Google a “serial privacy violator,” charging it has amassed growing amounts of data about its users.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reports Google has settled a 2015 case in which it was charged with intercepting private emails.

The lawsuit charged Google with violating both federal and California wiretap laws. EPIC says Google has agreed to "to eliminate any processing of email content" for advertising purposes before Gmail users see their messages. However, it says Google will continue to scan Gmail users on its servers.


Mark Huffman has been a consumer news reporter for ConsumerAffairs since 2004. He covers real estate, gas prices and the economy and has reported extensively on negative-option sales. He was previously an Associated Press reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., a correspondent for Westwoood One Radio Networks and Marketwatch.

Email Mark Huffman  Phone: 866-773-0221

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