Google Buzz is set back again after it is hit by a complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Centre

News by Dan Raywood

Further doubts have been made of Google's Buzz social networking site, after more criticism was made of its privacy settings.

Further doubts have been made of Google's Buzz social networking site, after more criticism was made of its privacy settings.

In a 16-page complaint, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (Epic) has told the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Buzz is ‘deceptive' and breaks consumer protection law.

It said that it is urging the FTC to investigate Google Buzz, as it said that it ‘cites clear harms to service subscribers, and alleges that the change in business practices violated user expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google's privacy policy, and may have violated federal wiretap laws'.

In its complaint, Epic alleges that when Google Buzz was introduced, users could not choose whether to sign up for the tool and once Google Buzz was activated, the tool automatically populated a user's ‘following' lists using that user's most frequent email contacts. Also, Google Buzz did not warn users that their email contacts would be used to populate their ‘following' lists.

It references several blogs that had criticised the service. While acknowledging the changes made last week to the settings, its complaint to the FTC states: “Google is engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Such practices are prohibited by the FTC Act, and the Commission is empowered to enforce the Act's prohibitions. These powers are described in FTC policy statements on deception and unfairness.

“A trade practice is unfair if it ‘causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition'.

It asked the FTC to look at ‘whether the conduct violates public policy as it has been established by statute, common law, industry practice, or otherwise', and make a finding of deception if there has been a ‘representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances, to the consumer's detriment'.

It concluded by requesting that the FTC investigate Google, ‘enjoin its unfair and deceptive business practices, and require Google to protect the privacy of Gmail users'.

It also specifically requested the FTC to: ‘compel Google to make Google Buzz a fully opt-in service for Gmail users; compel Google to cease using Gmail users' private address book contacts to compile social networking lists; compel Google to give Google Buzz users more control over their information, by allowing users to accept or reject followers from the outset; and provide such other relief as the commission finds necessary and appropriate'.


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