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Google Privacy Changes Draw Suspicion, Senator Pens Letter to FTC

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Google Privacy Changes Draw Suspicion, Senator Pens Letter to FTC
[ Technology]

One U.S. Senator wants the Federal Trade Commission to take another look at Google, this time for privacy changes the company announced last week that will allow them to use your name and face in advertisements.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has written a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, asking her to look into whether or not Google’s new Terms of Service changes violate its previous agreement with the commission – the one stemming from the 2011 settlement over alleged Google Buzz privacy violations.

“Yesterday, Google proposed changes to its Terms of Service. The company’s proposed new policy will soon make it possible to display users’ names, photos, and endorsements of marketers’ products across the Web. This shift in Google’s policy raises a number of important questions about whether Google is altering its privacy policy in a manner inconsistent with its consent agreement with the Commission and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which users’ identities, words, and opinions could be shared across the Web,” says Markey.

Google announced the ToS changes last week, and they will go into effect on November 11th. The new ToS basically lets Google use your profile name and picture across all Google products as they see fit. Of course, this means ads. Say you wrote a nice 4-star review of some spa on Google+? Bam, your face is now on an ad…

Google’s name for this is “shared endorsements,” and you can go toy with your privacy settings to get your face off of Google’s ads. But it is opt-out, which is sure to piss off privacy hawks. And it only really covers your name and face in ads, not all of the other Google products that the company has put on the same, level field with previous privacy policy updates.

“Moreover, in addition to being an opt-out mechanism, Google’s announced privacy changes come over two years after the company reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. In that matter, the Commission had alleged that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when Google Buzz was launched in 2010. Google and the FTC agreed on a settlement that bars the company from future privacy misrepresentations; requires Google to implement a comprehensive privacy policy; and initiates regular, independent privacy audits of the company for the next two decades,” says Markey.

In 2011, Google finalized a settlement with the FTC over Google Buzz. Google was accused of using deceptive tactics and violating privacy promises to users. The settlement had a few consequences, mostly making sure the company stayed away from any future privacy sleight-of-hand, and also requiring Google to implement a “comprehensive privacy program.” Google was also forced to submit to independent privacy audits for the next couple of decades.

Google’s still taking flak for the Google Buzz privacy flap, and in the time since the settlement the company has run afoul of the federal agency on other occasions.

Here’s Senator Markey’s full letter to the FTC:

October 12, 2013

The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Chairwoman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
Yesterday, Google proposed changes to its Terms of Service. The company’s proposed new policy will soon make it possible to display users’ names, photos, and endorsements of marketers’ products across the Web. This shift in Google’s policy raises a number of important questions about whether Google is altering its privacy policy in a manner inconsistent with its consent agreement with the Commission and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which users’ identities, words, and opinions could be shared across the Web.

Under the new advertisement policy, called “shared endorsements”, users’ names and pictures, along with their ratings or comments, could appear in advertisements on any of the millions of Web sites that comprise Google’s display advertising network. For example, if a user follows a restaurant on Google Plus, that user’s name, photo, and positive endorsement may be displayed in advertisements for that restaurant that friends and others see.

I understand that, according to Google’s Terms of Service Update: “When it comes to shared endorsements in ads, you can control the use of your Profile name and photo via the Shared Endorsements setting. If you turn the setting to “off,” your Profile name and photo will not show up on that ad for your favorite bakery or any other ads.” Nevertheless, Google’s Update continues: “This setting only applies to use in ads, and doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.”

Moreover, in addition to being an opt-out mechanism, Google’s announced privacy changes come over two years after the company reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. In that matter, the Commission had alleged that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when Google Buzz was launched in 2010. Google and the FTC agreed on a settlement that bars the company from future privacy misrepresentations; requires Google to implement a comprehensive privacy policy; and initiates regular, independent privacy audits of the company for the next two decades.

I respectfully request the Commission’s views on whether Google’s planned changes violate the settlement agreement. I also request that the Commission provide me with information about any actions it has taken or plans to take to investigate whether Google’s proposed changes to its privacy policy violate its agreement with the Commission.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please have a member of your staff contact Joseph Wender at 202-224-2742.

Sincerely,
Edward J. Markey

Image via Ed Markey, Facebook

Google Privacy Changes Draw Suspicion, Senator Pens Letter to FTC
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  • Have to be Careful

    Google does some weird things. My browser updated without me approving this and then I realized my microphone was always active after the upgrade. I am an Information Technology Consultant so I am aware of all the things I need to do to prevent this from happening, but it still did. The changes were very subtle, but it makes me wonder what else I don’t know about.

    Being in the industry, I am very concerned as to what is happening. I don’t think people understand the extent to which things are happening. In fact, I think there is an article about how Skype is being viewed by the NSA on this website. Really think about that. Every conversation you ever had via the computer is recorded somewhere on a government server. (Go out to the NSA’s on website and you will see the facilities they are building. They are not small.)

    If you are a business, I hope you didn’t tell any trade secrets but they are no loner secrets and who ever has access to that film footage could easily sell it.

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