FTC Commissioner: Google Is 'Irresponsible' on Privacy

FTC Commissioner: Google 'Irresponsible' on Privacy
Artwork: Chip Taylor
Google's greatest threat may not be Microsoft or Apple --- instead, it may be the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which increasingly is putting Google in its cross-hairs for serious privacy violations. Yesterday, Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour lashed into Google for "irresponsible conduct" related to privacy, and said about Google Buzz, "consumer privacy cannot be run in beta."

Harbour spoke at an FTC privacy roundtable, and said, according to the Wall Street Journal, "Protecting consumer privacy is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, many of the companies that consumers look to as leaders --- and that we expect to be leaders --- still have not taken this message entirely to heart."

Just in case anyone didn't know which company she was talking about, she said that the launch of Google Buzz, which was widely cited as a privacy invader, was "irresponsible conduct." Google tweaked Buzz after launch to get rid of the privacy-invading behavior, but Harbour said that wasn't good enough, noting:

"Deeds speak louder than words, and this is turning into a dangerous game of 'copycat' behavior. Unlike a lot of tech products, consumer privacy cannot be run in beta."

She was particularly harsh about Google CEO Eric Schmidt's statement to CNBC that "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place." And she made clear that the FTC plans to take action if Google and other companies did not change the way they viewed online privacy, saying:

"The Commission will continue to evaluate consumers' preferences, and armed with these insights, I hope and expect that the Commission will continue to shape the conversation about the intrinsic value of privacy. But make no mistake: The Commission will unfailingly step in to protect consumers where we believe the law has been violated, and that includes violations relating to privacy promises."

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