Remember Google Buzz? No? Just a little, maybe? You might have had one or two friends who used it in 2010, or more likely you clicked on it accidentally while trying to find something in your spam folder. To learn more about Google “Buzz” have a quick peak at this Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Buzz
As you may have gleaned Google Buzz is no more. While the failure of Google Buzz as a social network may not be big news we can learn from Google’s mistakes with respect to consumer privacy.
Google Buzz ran into trouble with the FTC from the get go. The FTC charged Google Inc. with using deceptive tactics and with violating its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched Google Buzz, in 2010. According to the FTC Complaint, Google launched the Buzz social network through its Gmail web-based email product. Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, however the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective. For users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and difficult to find. The FTC alleged that Google Inc. did not adequately inform Buzz users that the identity of individuals they emailed most frequently would be made public by default. Complaints poured from consumers who were concerned about public disclosure of their email contacts which included, in some cases, ex-spouses, patients, students, employers, or competitors.
Google Inc. entered into a settlement agreement with the FTC in October 2011. The settlement bars Google Inc. from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years.
Very little time passed before Google was back in the FTC hot seat, only this time the FTC’s complaint alleged that Google’s failure to protect the privacy of its users violated the October 2011 settlement. According to the FTC Complaint, Google specifically told Safari users that the default setting on the browser would block third-party cookies, and, as long as they did not change their browser settings, they would “effectively accomplish the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie].” This caught the attention of the FTC, which found that Google was not living up to its promise. In fact, the FTC found that Google exploited an exception to Safari’s default setting in order to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain.
This activity was in direct violation of the aforementioned prior settlement and order issued by the FTC against Google in October 2011, which barred Google from several things (including misrepresenting the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information). As a result, Google’s $22.5 million settlement with the FTC went down in history as the largest FTC penalty ever for violation of a Commission order. Check out the FTC order here: (FTC Order)
What can we learn from Google? 1) Be transparent about your tracking activities – tell consumers what information is being collected, provide them with a way to opt-out and most importantly, follow through with your promises! 2) Privacy (including the tracking and data collection practices of companies) is on the FTC’s radar. 3) The FTC will follow up with companies that have entered into settlement agreements to confirm that the agreement is being honored… “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”
If you’re interested in how the FTC has been making sure companies like Google live up to their privacy promises then check out the link below to read about the recent FTC news on privacy rights: (FTC news releases on privacy promises)