Privacy Groups Urge Public to Push for Industry Adoption of Google Buzz Settlement Terms

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A coalition of leading privacy groups urged the public to push for industrywide adoption of the tough online data protection terms the government imposed on Google as part of a recent settlement of complaints about its Buzz social network.

Google agreed to new measures to protect consumer data that include adopting a sweeping privacy policy and submitting to independent audits for the next 20 years to ensure that the company is following the rules. It was the first time the Federal Trade Commission required a company to enact a broad privacy policy.

The agency said it hoped other Internet companies would adopt the new standards. And on Thursday privacy advocates urged people to lobby for that as part of the agency's public comment period, which ends May 2.

"Even though public comments are about Google’s practices, they’re going to be sending a much larger message to all online companies about honoring their privacy policies," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Privacy groups have launched an effort called Fix Google Privacy to put pressure on the Internet search giant to improve its practices for handling consumer information. Among the changes they want is for Google to delete user search histories and to endorse a do-not-track requirement for Web browsers so that people could prevent their online activities from being followed by advertisers and other companies.

"I think Google is thinking it can get away with doing the bare minimum," to comply with the settlement, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "That’s why this public comment period is so important. We’re not going to let Google off easy here."

Google triggered "a huge wave of privacy concern" when it launched its Buzz social network last year, said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Google promoted Buzz to its Gmail users, and many of them unwittingly agreed to make public their email contacts when they signed up. Others thought they had chosen not to join, only to find out that they had.

EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC, leading to what privacy experts have hailed as a landmark settlement with Google that will put pressure on other online companies to follow suit. Google has admitted problems with the launch of Buzz, saying it "fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control."

The public comment period is an opportunity for the public to push for detailed requirements in the settlement to ensure it protects consumer privacy, Rotenberg said. It's also a rare chance for people to "make it clear how important privacy is to them and demand it be protected," said John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project at Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group.

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