Privacy groups complain to FTC over Google’s 'deceptive' policy change

The complaint alleges that Google changed its policy in June to combine personal and browsing data

Privacy groups have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that Google is encroaching on user privacy through a policy change in June that allows it to combine personally-identifiable information with browsing data collected by its DoubleClick digital advertising service.

The complaint by Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearing House alleged that Google has created “super-profiles” as it can track user activity on Android mobile phones, with an 88 percent market share of smartphones worldwide, "and from any website that uses Google Analytics, hosts YouTube videos, or displays ads served by DoubleClick or AdSense."

The combination of data is in contrast to Google's pledges not to combine users’ personally-identifiable information with DoubleClick’s browsing data when acquiring the ad serving service in 2008, according to the complaint filed Thursday but made public on Monday. In October this year, ProPublica reported that Google "quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand” by its policy change in June that allowed the DoubleClick database of web browsing records to be combined with personal user data.

On June 28, Google users were informed of some new optional features introduced for their account that would give them more control over the data the company collects and how it’s used, while allowing the search giant to show more relevant ads. As part of the changes, Google struck out the language in its privacy policy stating that it would “not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent,” according to the complaint. Existing users were presumably given the chance to opt out,  but for new users the combination of personal and browsing data was done by default, it added.

An investigation by the FTC would add to a number of disputes the company has had with the FTC on privacy issues, including a US$22.5 million settlement with the FTC in 2012 on charges that it misrepresented to users of Apple’s Safari browser that it would not place tracking cookies or serve targeted ads to those users. That action violated an earlier privacy settlement between the company and the FTC.

In 2012, Google introduced a new and controversial privacy policy that stated that when users are signed in, the company may combine their information across services used.

“Google is a serial offender, and the action that the FTC has taken to date has done nothing to slow Google’s intrusive violations of its users’ privacy,” according to the groups.

Google could not be immediately reached for comment.

Describing the June move as highly deceptive, the groups said the announcement “intentionally misled users,” who had no way to figure from the wording that Google was in fact asking users for permission to link their personal information to data reflecting their behavior on as many as 80 percent of the Internet’s leading websites.

The groups have asked the FTC to investigate the changes to Google’s data collection policies as a result of the June policy shift, stop the combination of data from DoubleClick without proper user consent, and order the company to return advertising revenues obtained as a result of combining data gathered from DoubleClick with that gathered from its other services.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?