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GOOGLE TO BE AUDITED FOR 20 YEARS FOR PRIVACY BREACHES

Source: Smarthouse

Posted on April zzz, 2011

The latest complaints from Google users, who signed up to Buzz and found some of their contact details made public by default, means Google will now have to undergo a privacy review once every two years for the next two decades.

The harsh ruling comes from the FTC who said that the search giant had wrongly used information from Google Mail users last year to create its social network, Buzz. Google has been involved in a string of privacy violations in several countries, including Australia.

Earlier this month saw the company fined for collecting personal information via Wi Fi for its StreetView service last year.

Nine months after the launch of Buzz in February 2010, some users of Buzz sued the company over privacy violations, due in part because of a feature that allowed it to publicly list other Gmail contacts that a user was most frequently in touch with.

Although the feature could be turned off, the default setting was to leave it on, potentially revealing users' interactions with their contacts.

According to the FTC, these were 'deceptive tactics' used by the search giant to gain personal data from users of Gmail.

Even when users were given the chance to opt-out of Buzz, the service still enrolled some of their personal details.

Although Goolge apologised to users for insufficient testing and settled the case with an $8.5m fund to support "organisations working on privacy education and policy on the web", the FTC said Google had violated own privacy policy which said: "When you sign up for a particular service that requires registration, we ask you to provide personal information."

In the case of Buzz, Google did not ask for the personal information, it simply took them from existing information via its Gmail service.

Alma Whitten, who was engaged as the director of privacy at Google after the Wi Fi debacle, said in a blog post: "We don't always get everything right. The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control - letting our users and Google down.

"While we worked quickly to make improvements, regulators unsurprisingly wanted more detail about what went wrong and how we could prevent it from happening again."

The company has now been ordered to undergo a privacy review once every two years for the next 20 years.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said: "This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honour its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations."

Meanwhile, both US officials and EU data protection agencies are working to draw up new plans to protect users information across the net.

The 'Right to be forgotten' is a fundamental right of citizens when they delete account details or leave a social networking site, says the EU Justice Commissioner, who is working closely with the FTC to force companies to provide information on what data they have collected from users, and why.

It also aims to revamp antiquated laws which no longer protect citizen's data on the boundary-free internet.

Reflecting on the latest FTC ruling, Whitten said: "We'd like to apologize again for the mistakes we made with Buzz.

"While today's announcement thankfully put this incident behind us, we are 100 percent focused on ensuring that our new privacy procedures effectively protect the interests of all our users going forward."




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