Advocates asked a federal court on Wednesday to order the Federal Trade Commission to enforce its privacy settlement against Google, saying the company’s new privacy policies violate the agreement.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center said it would file a motion in U.S. District Court in Washington. A complaint from the same group led to an FTC settlement last March with Google over allegations that it engaged in unfair and deceptive practices when it automatically signed up Gmail users for its now-defunct social-networking service Buzz.
“Google’s recent announcement that the company intends to consolidate users’ personal information without individuals’ consent violates the consent order and threatens to harm consumers,” EPIC said in a document it filed with its motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. “The FTC is required to enforce the consent order. But the commission has failed to do so.”
The settlement prohibits the Internet giant from misrepresenting its privacy practices. It also requires Google to obtain users’ consent before disclosing their personal data and to comply with a comprehensive privacy program, subject to periodic independent audits for two decades.
EPIC argued that the proposed privacy changes Google announced last month violate the FTC settlement by “misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains and protects the privacy and confidentiality” of the information covered by the agreement. In addition, Google also violated its FTC settlement by failing to obtain its users’ consent before sharing their data with third parties, EPIC claimed.
The development is the latest in a series of controversies that have surrounded Google in recent years as it tries to maintain its lead in Internet advertising and search markets. Google also is facing an antitrust probe by the FTC, which is examining allegations that the company favors its own products in its search rankings.
Google announced late last month that as of March 1 it was consolidating more than 60 privacy policies and also would begin tracking and collecting data about users who have logged in as they move from one Google service such as Gmail to another, such as its calendar. Privacy advocates and a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers have voiced concern with the changes.
“The FTC takes compliance with our consent orders very seriously and always looks carefully at any evidence that they are being violated,” FTC spokeswoman Cecelia Prewett said.
Google officials told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade during a private briefing last week that they believe the changes do not run afoul of its privacy settlement.
Despite this, Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., said after last week’s briefing that she still has concerns about the privacy changes. She told reporters that the changes have prompted her to even consider deleting her own Gmail account.