Google Inc. has agreed to settle FTC charges that it engaged in deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy pledges to consumers during the 2010 launch of its social network, Google Buzz. The proposed settlement requires that the company introduce a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information—a requirement never before mandated in an FTC settlement order. The proposed settlement also orders independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. This action also marks the first time that the FTC has claimed a violation of the privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, a voluntary program that serves as a scheme for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States.
The complaint filed by the FTC alleged that Google violated Section 5(a) of the FTC Act and its own privacy policies, in connection with the launch of its Buzz social network, by using information provided by consumers for the company’s email service, Gmail, without adequately obtaining consumers’ permission. According to the complaint, consumers were not given adequate options for declining or leaving the social network, and, for users who joined Buzz, the controls for limiting the dissemination of users’ personal information were confusing and difficult to locate. The FTC also alleged that Google failed to disclose effectively that users’ frequent email contacts would become public by default.
The proposed settlement order will be subject to public comment for 30 days, until May 1, 2011, at which point the FTC will decide whether to make the order final. Written comments can be sent to: FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Comments can also be filed electronically here.
If you have any questions about the FTC’s announcement, please contact Jeffrey A. Greenbaum at (212) 826-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Claudine Wilson at (212) 705-4842 or email@example.com, or any other member of the Frankfurt Kurnit Advertising Group.