Privacy Group Demands FTC Investigation Into Google Buzz

Despite apologies from Google, and changes to the inner workings of its Buzz social networking service, a high-profile privacy group has taken its complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has urged the FTC to open an investigation into Buzz.

EPIC in its complaint (PDF) charges that Google has contradicted its own privacy policy, engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices, failed to give up to 37 million Gmail users “meaningful control over personal information,” and may have violated federal wiretap laws.

Buzz has been scrutinized heavily due to privacy concerns in recent days, leading Google to make numerous changes to the service. EPIC’s opposition to Buzz isn’t its first disagreement with Google’s practices regarding the cloud. In March of 2009, EPIC urged the FTC to investigate Google’s cloud policies, and warned that the company had failed to safeguard the privacy and security of users.

Among specific requests that EPIC is making to the FTC, it is asking for it to compel Google to:

  • Make Google Buzz a fully opt-in service for Gmail users;
  • Cease using Gmail users’ private address book contacts to compile social networking lists;
  • Give Google Buzz users more control over their information by allowing them to accept or reject followers from the outset.

Notably, EPIC’s complaint also quotes numerous bloggers who have written about the privacy issues surrounding Buzz, as well as a Yahoo Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, who wrote:

I am extremely concerned about hundreds of activists in authoritarian countries who would neveer want to reveal a list of their interlocutors to the outside world…many of their contacts are other activists…and democracy promoters.

Google may well have an international problem on its hands with Buzz, and other privacy groups are entering the fray. Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner is investigating the service, and The Electronic Frontier Foundation has leveled criticism against Buzz.

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