Google FTC Complaints “Chronicled”

    October 8, 2007

A growing number of disgruntled Google users have filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission concerning a range of issues.

The complaints vary from accusations of overcharging for advertising to returning pornographic sites when users search for their own names. The San Francisco Chronicle obtained complaints against Google through open records request that spans three years.

The names of the users who filed complaints were blacked out, along with over a dozen pages that are part of law enforcement investigations. One person from Frederick, Md. talked about being dropped from Google’s advertising program for no apparent reason. Another user from Omaha, Neb., was upset that a search for her name on Google led to pornographic Web sites and worried that it would damage her reputation and career.

As Google has gained in popularity so has the number of complaints from users. In 2005 the Federal Trade Commission received 74 complaints concerning Google. In 2006 complaints increased to 133 and then 176 in the first six months of this year. While the number of complaints has increased its still a small portion of Google’s user base, the company had 128.5 million U.S. users in August according to comScore.

When people do complain about Google it usually involves personal matters rather than accusing the company of being a monopoly. Only a small portion of complaints dealt with Google’s merger with DoubleClick or the information that Google keeps about its users.

"Marketers are compiling dossiers on you based on the pictures you post and the Web sites you visit," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a digital rights group. "Most people have no idea."

The most common complaints the Federal Trade Commission has received about Google include privacy and users wanting personal information that shows up in search results to be removed. Other complaints include Google’s reverse phone directory that allows users to search a telephone number to find out who it belongs to and get a map to the person’s home. Additional complaints involve Google Checkout and users not receiving a $10 credit for signing up and advertisers saying they were overcharged or falsely accused of click fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has also received complaints about Google’s purchase of DoubleClick for $3.1 billion sighting monopoly and privacy fears.