The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission requesting that the government agency investigate Google regarding privacy concerns with Google Buzz. Google created and launched Google Buzz, a hybrid Twitter/Facebook type service, to complement GMail, its email service. Like, Yahoo! Connect, the service is free. Though Google Buzz appears as an icon on Gmail, users have to elect to use the service.
Nicholas Carlson reported in the Business Insider that people noticed some privacy related issues shortly after the Google Buzz launch. Basically, Google assumed who users wanted to follow, and who would want to follow them, from users’ email contact lists. Significantly, unless users opted-out, Google made the list public. According to Mr. Carlson, the option to opt-out was written in very fine print and easy to miss.
Google responded to the outcry fairly quickly: Lists were no longer automatically generated nor made public by default. They even offered an option to disable Google Buzz entirely.
Regardless, EPIC has filed a complaint with the FTC that claims Google is guilty of Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices. In response to the complaint, a Google spokesperson points out in this article that the service is optional and people choose to use it.
As I have previously reported, Google takes broad interests in the content and data its users transmit and upload on its services. Its position on privacy is really no different.
People seem to have adopted Google products, like Gmail and Google Docs, because they are both good and free. However, it is a misnomer that the services are free. The consideration (i.e. cost) for the services is the information (i.e. data) that Google can convert to cash via advertising or other purposes.
Regardless of how Google collects the data it aggregates to sell advertising, or that it removes personally identifiable information like IP addresses, from the data it collects, Google’s services are not, and have never been, private. But data is the price of admission for the use of Google’s free services. So, Google’s initial launch of Google Buzz as a public service with few concerns about privacy does not seem like either a deceptive or an unfair trade practice to me.
For more information about the importance of reading terms of service and privacy policies see:
Search Engine Land has an account of a conference call Google held to explain how they blew Google Buzz. Essentially, they learned that many people who use their services have a different perspective on privacy than they do. That’s all good and well, but my question is why would people really concerned with privacy use Google services.