EPIC files privacy complaint against Google Buzz

The privacy group wants Google Buzz to be an opt-in service

Despite the changes that Google has made to Buzz following negative reaction to the service, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission charging the search giant with violating user privacy.

EPIC on Tuesday asked the FTC to investigate Google and force it to change or stop offering several features of Buzz, Google's social-networking service launched last week. It also asked for compensatory relief if the agency deems it appropriate.

One of EPIC's concerns is that Buzz is opt-out, rather than opt-in. Gmail users are automatically signed up to be part of Buzz unless they uncheck a box. EPIC asked the FTC to require Google to instead ask Gmail users to opt into the service.

EPIC also asks the FTC to make Google stop using Gmail users' address books to create Buzz user follower lists. In its second round of changes to the Buzz service, Google shifted to what it calls "auto-suggest" rather than "auto-follow." Previously, Google created a Buzz user's follower list from the user's contact list. Now, Google displays to users all of their contacts with check marks next to their names, and users can uncheck contacts if they don't want to follow them.

But EPIC thinks Google shouldn't use "private address book contacts" to create the follower list. "An attempt by an email service provider to attempt to convert the personal information of all of its customers into a separate service raises far-reaching concerns for subscribers and implicates both consumer and personal privacy interests," it wrote in the filing.

More generally, EPIC also complains that in creating Buzz, Google encroached on user privacy without warning. "This change in business practices and service terms violated user privacy expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google's own privacy policy, and may have also violated federal wiretap laws," it said. EPIC calls the actions unfair and deceptive.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint. Since introducing the service one week ago, Google has faced criticism from users, some of whom were unhappy that Buzz reveals the contacts they most frequently correspond with in Gmail. Google has twice made changes aimed at responding to the concerns, but EPIC apparently doesn't believe they go far enough.

Buzz is Google's attempt to deliver a social-networking service that lets people share information in a similar way as popular services like Facebook and Twitter.

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Tags privacyGooglesocial networkslegalgoogle buzzElectronic Privacy Information Center

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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