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Privacy group sues FTC to stop new Google privacy policy

February 08, 2012|By Jessica Guynn | This post has been updated, as indicated below
  • Attendees at the National Retail Federation listen to a discussion about Google Wallet in January.
Attendees at the National Retail Federation listen to a discussion about… (Mark Lennihan / Associated…)

A privacy watchdog has filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission in a bid to stop Google from rolling out its new privacy policy.

In an unusual legal maneuver, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction that would require the FTC to enforce the consent order it reached with Google last year.

Google settled with the FTC on charges that it deceived users and violated its own privacy policy when it launched the now defunct Buzz social network. EPIC filed the original complaint that spurred the settlement, which requires Google to evaluate existing and new services for potential privacy pitfalls.

Google is set to roll out its new privacy policy on March 1. EPIC says the new policy violates the consent order and should be halted.

Document: View the EPIC lawsuit agians the FTC

"Google agreed not to combine user data without obtaining affirmative consent. They are planning to break that promise to users on March 1. That's why we needed to file this lawsuit,” said EPIC’s executive director, Marc Rotenberg. "If some users like the Google change in terms of service, that's OK. They should opt-in. But if other users don't like the proposed change, they have the right to say no. This has to be the user's choice, not Google's choice. And the FTC must enforce its consent order to protect the rights of users to make these choices."

Document: View the EPIC request for a temporary restraining order

A spokeswoman for the FTC could not immediately be reached for comment on the complaint filed in federal court in Washington. A Google spokesman also could not immediately be reached for comment.

[Updated 10:41 a.m., Feb. 8: A Google spokesman responded with an emailed statement: "We haven’t yet seen the filing so can’t comment on the specifics. Protecting people's privacy is something we think about all day across the company, and we welcome discussions about our approach."

He added: "Our updated privacy policy will make it easier to understand our privacy commitments, and we've undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history to ensure that users have many opportunities to learn about the changes. We’ll continue to offer choice and control over how people use Google."]

[Updated 11:40 a.m., Feb. 8: FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell said in an emailed statement: "The FTC takes compliance with our consent orders very seriously and always looks carefully at any evidence that they are being violated."]

Google’s new privacy policy would govern how it uses the vast amounts of personal data it collects through its search engine, email and other services. Google says it's not changing its current practices, just making it easier for consumers to understand how it collects information. But the new policy does makes it easier for Google to share data about a user among its different services, such as Gmail and YouTube, if he or she is logged into Google at the time. Having more information about a user makes it easier to target advertising, which is how Google makes most of its money. It also helps Google compete with Facebook, which is looking to start selling its stock to the public in May.

Google has launched a publicity campaign around the globe to help promote the new policy. But it has run into resistance in Europe, where regulators have called on the company to delay the rollout of the new privacy policy until it can be determined that it adequately protects users’ personal information. Google has said it plans to move forward even as the European Commission looks to overhaul its data-protection rules to make them more stringent.

EPIC has also complained about Google’s new search feature that blends information from the Google+ social network into search results to make them more personal. And it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get access to privacy audits of the Internet search giant, which were part of the settlement with the FTC.

RELATED:

Google defends new privacy policy to Congress

Google launches ad campaign to ease privacy concerns

Google updates policy to track users across all of its services

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