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Google Settles with FTC Over Buzz Complaints

Privacy issues stemming from the search giant's social network result in tighter procedures, oversight.

Bill Mickey By Bill Mickey
03/30/2011 -11:10 AM

Google today reached an agreement with the FTC over privacy complaints related to its Buzz social networking tool. The 2010 launch of the Gmail-based network succeeded less at making a dent in social media market share as it did attracting complaints from thousands of users and the notice of the FTC, which eventually said the company used "deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers."

Users, says the FTC, were given false choices when Google Buzz was launched. "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," says the Commission in a release announcing the settlement.

The FTC says users who declined the invitation were enrolled into certain features of the Buzz network anyway, and those who elected to join were not fully informed of what information would be made public.

In a company blog post, Google director of privacy, product and engineering Alma Whitten says the launch "fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control—letting our users and Google down."

As part of the settlement, Google must now get user consent before sharing data with third parties if its products are changed "in a way that results in information sharing that is contrary to any privacy promises made when the user's information was collected."

Further, for the next 20 years, Google has to submit to third-party audits every two years to make sure its privacy and data practices are up to par.

Bill Mickey is editor of Audience Development and Folio: magazines.

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