US lawmakers ask for FTC investigation of Google Buzz

Eleven representatives question whether the launch of Buzz breached consumer privacy

Eleven U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google's launch of its Buzz social-networking product for breaches of consumer privacy.

The representatives -- six Democrats and five Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- noted in their letter that Google's roll-out of Buzz exposed private information of users to Google's Gmail service to outsiders. In one case, a 9-year-old girl accidentally shared her contact list in Gmail with a person who has a "sexually charged" username, the lawmakers said in the letter, sent to the FTC Friday and released Monday.

"Due to the high number of individuals whose online privacy is affected by tools like this -- either directly or indirectly --- we feel that these claims warrant the commission's review of Google's public disclosure of personal information of consumers through Google Buzz," said the letter, organized by Representative John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat.

In the original public version of Buzz, launched in February, the program compiled a list of the Gmail contacts the users most frequently e-mailed or chatted with and automatically started following those people. Those lists were made public, giving strangers access to the contacts of Buzz users.

There were a flurry of complaints from Gmail users, and Google made changes to Buzz within a couple of days.

Asked for a response to the letter, a Google spokeswoman said user transparency and control are important to the company. "When we realized that we'd unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns," she said, repeating Google's past statements on Buzz. "Our door is always open to discuss additional ways to improve our products and services moving forward. "

The lawmakers asked the FTC to get answers to four questions from Google, including whether the company will revise its Gmail privacy policy to obtain consent from consumers for sharing their information. The lawmakers also want to know if Google was using the personal information collected through Buzz to deliver targeted advertising.

The representatives also questioned how Google's planned acquisition of mobile advertising vendor AdMob will affect consumer privacy.

In mid-March, outgoing FTC member Pamela Jones Harbour ripped into Google for its handling of Buzz, calling the product's launch "irresponsible conduct."

In February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC, saying that Google Buzz engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that violated Google's privacy policy and federal wiretap laws.

Tags Googleftcgoogle buzzprivacy

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service




Google should be forced to start over from scratch and any business that shares your contacts,addresses,photographs must be OPT-IN only. I was never told i may have to give up my privacy to use gmail,hell they spy on the contents as it is,which i don't even think is legal. Email to me is just like regular mail.

Google used there email users as an instant social network,a clear disadvantage to facebook,myspace and so one which started from scratch. If given this choice to be a member of buzz in order to use the ad laden gmail, i would not use gmail,but that doesn't matter anymore,congress could care less about our privacy anymore. Its time to vote out the bastards

tchu (jon)


May be things are even worse that we think. Check out this nice paper from guys in the inria french institute, to be published in ACM SNS'10.
They show how spammers can get real benefits from Buzz !
Profiling seems quite easy for them now...
Using emails of users as an instant social network, is definitely a clear disadvantage to facebook and others, but this can be a serious challenge for Google to come over other problems related to the usage of these emails...



It is truly sad that most people do not even know what privacy means. You have no expectation of privacy on the internet, especially gmail and google. If you do not believe me, ask you local national security law professor.



GMail ToS:

2.3 You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google, or (b) you are a person barred from receiving the Services under the laws of the United States or other countries including the country in which you are resident or from which you use the Services.

The 9 year old girl either lied to obtain the account, or her irresponsible parents are to blame.

Do you really think these politicians have any clue as to how Google's applications work?

To the commenters above, if you don't like Gmail, go use one of the horrendous alternatives and enjoy. Google provides an superior, free service, you are not obligated to accept their terms.

tchu (jon)


2 Mike:
It is true that the Google service is free, whatsoever... Facebook (or any other) is also free, isn't it?
But Google is claiming to be the top notch privacy preserving providers (see their Privacy Center and claims of their CEO). so c'mon, don't tell me people should not care or go away. I think Google must be clear with these facts, and carefully considering some facts !
Privacy is a matter of responsibility not only from users, but also from providers !
The thing is that one can be confident in Google, but not in third parties (worse people with malicious intentions) to whom the collected information from Google could be leaked !

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