FTC Commissioner Takes Issue With Schmidt, Buzz

    March 17, 2010

FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour will leave the agency next month, but that’s almost surely not soon enough for Google.  Today, Harbour criticized Eric Schmidt and the rollout of Buzz, and also asked her colleagues to adopt a tougher stance on some privacy-related offenses.

In fairness to both Google and Harbour, other companies and products, including Facebook, Flickr, and Hotmail, were identified as problematic.  Plus, the commissioner could have been much harsher.  A speech she gave during a privacy roundtable didn’t go at all well for Google, though.

In reference to Schmidt’s infamous "if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place" remark, Harbour stated, "Speaking for the last time as a regulator, let me be very clear: I could not disagree more with that assertion.  Privacy is a fundamental right that people do care about."

She later added, "The recent launch of Google Buzz was, quite frankly, irresponsible conduct by a company like Google. . . .  Google consistently tells the public to ‘just trust us,’ and has adopted as a company motto, ‘Do no evil.’  We have high expectations for Google as a corporate citizen.  But for me, based on my observations, I do not believe that consumer privacy played any significant role in the release of Buzz."

Then here’s the last quote we promised: Harbour said, "I would like to see the Commission take the position of intolerance toward companies that push the privacy envelope, then backtrack and modify their offerings after facing consumer and regulator backlash."

Google could be in a fair amount of trouble if the FTC chooses to adopt all these viewpoints as its own.