Group wants new FTC investigation of Google’s privacy policy

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission should force Google to halt its plan to consolidate user identities across its services and fine the company for violating an October privacy settlement with the agency, privacy group the Center for Digital Democracy said in a complaint filed Wednesday.

Google is not making the changesto its privacy policy to provideconvenience to users, as it claims, but to better track them anddeliver targeted advertising, the CDD complaint said. “Google hascommunicated its real plans to expand data targeting throughout all itservices, and to better compete against Facebook, to its advertisingcustomers,” said Jeffrey Chester, CDD’s executive director. “They havefailed to tell the truth to consumers.”

The FTC should require Google to “accurately and honestly” inform usersabout the reason for the changes, Chester wrote in his complaint.

Even though Google has not yet rolled out the privacy changes, itsplans violate an FTC settlement over Google’s aborted Buzz rollout,Chester said. The Buzz settlement allows the FTC to assess fines ofUS$16,000 per violation and applies to “future actions,” according tothe FTC.

The plan, announced in January, is “a digital fait accompli, so tospeak,” Chester said.

Google defended the changes. The updated privacy policy “will make ourprivacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire tocreate a seamless experience for our signed-in users,” the company saidin a statement. “We’ve undertaken the most extensive notificationeffort in Google’s history, and we’re continuing to offer choice andcontrol over how people use our services. Of course we are happy todiscuss this approach with regulators globally.”

An FTC representative said the agencyhas received the complaint butwould not comment further.

Other privacy groups have also complained about the proposed changes.Earlier this month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed alawsuit against the FTC for the agency’s alleged failure to enforce theprivacy settlement.

Google changes set for March 1st

The CDD complaint is not related to recent reports that Google haschanged the privacy settings in the Safari and Internet Explorerbrowsers in order to install cookies. CDD doesn’t plan to file acomplaint about those reports, but is instead focused on the proposedchanges to the company’s privacy policy, Chester said.

Google plans to roll out the changes on March 1. Chester called on theFTC to act quickly to block the privacy changes, and he called onGoogle to delay the changes until an FTC investigation can be completed.

Google will use the new privacy practices to collect more personal dataabout YouTube, smartphone and computerusers so that the company candeliver more personalized ads, the CDD complaint said. Google hasrolled out several new initiatives in the past year focused ondelivering better targeted ads, the complaint said.

The FTC settlement requires Google to get “express affirmative consent”from users before sharing their personal information with thirdparties, and the new privacy policy will allow Google to share moreinformation with Vivaki, a targeted ad company that Google announced apartnership with in November, the complaint said.

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