Our friends at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) went to court Wednesday to block Google from combining data gathered from its various services without users’ consent.
The Internet giant recently announced it would consolidate more than 60 privacy policies into one and that it would combine a user’s data collected on various sites into one profile. What you did on YouTube would be commingled with data from your search queries and your Gmail account, for example.
Google has spun this as being aimed at “improving the user experience.” In fact, it’s all about amassing even greater digital dossiers on people so they are better targets for advertising. Remember, our information is Google’s lifeblood. We’re not Google’s customers; we’re the product.
The big problem with Google’s unilateral action is that it appears to violate the terms of the “Buzz” consent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. I called for the FTC to determine if there’s a violation last week. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked the same question in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
Google’s consent agreement with the FTC came as a result of the “Buzz” debacle in which the Internet giant displayed users email addresses without their consent as it tried to launch a social network. Under the terms of the consent agreement, Google can’t use data it has collected in new ways unless users opt-in to the new use.
Click here to read the consent agreement.
EPIC today filed a complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Federal Court in Washington. It wants to compel the FTC to act before the new policies are implemented March 1.
Google’s plan raised concerns in Europe, where the Article 29 Working Party, a group representing European data protection officials, asked Google to “pause” implementation of the new polices until the group could determine how they affect users’ privacy. The French data protection agency is taking the lead in the analysis. So far, Google has rebuffed the European request.
“We believe Google went way over the line in a variety of ways,” Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, told USA Today. I couldn’t agree more.
The best thing that could happen now is for the FTC to act immediately and block Google’s arrogant, unilateral action. Then there’d be no need for a hearing on EPIC’s motion.