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Google’s new Privacy Policy may Violate their FTC Consent Agreement

Google’s new fascist-like privacy policy has many up in arms, and will likely face an investigation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – with whom they have a pre-established consent order since in March of 2011 – forbidding the forcible waiver of user privacy rights.

If you want the gist of the new Privacy Policy as stated by Google, here is the video.

Google’s new privacy policy, or rather anti-privacy policy changes their privacy paradigm from one of informed, optional consent to obligatory subjugation. The new policy forces their users to consent to Google collecting their personal information, across all of its myriad of services (including: Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Google Calendar, Google Wallet, Google Maps, Google Reader, Google search and viewing history, Google-based Android apps, and all other current and future Google services). The only way for users to opt out will be to permanently delete, one-by-one, their Google-owned profiles.

Google has been doing this for some time with Gmail but never before have they forced their users to comply, nor have they created service-wide profiles based on every service that they offer. Many are concerned that as the cloud-based computing trend builds more and more user information will be added to Google servers. Another concern will be with the increasing popularity of their latest foray into social networking, Google+, if that takes off then entire social profiles could be sold to the highest bidder.

The information Google will soon be compiling on their users will be cached and stored in a centralized location where detailed user profiles are created. User profiles will then be integrated into their search and advertising services to offer their advertisers highly-targeted opportunities, based on intrusive user data.

Google representative, and policy manager, Betsy Masiello, released a statement skirting around the issue of how Google will use this data and instead focused on the new policy’s effect on user experiences. “We’re not collecting more data about you. Our new policy simply makes it clear that we use data to refine and improve your experience on Google,” wrote Masiello. “We’re making things simpler and we’re trying to be upfront about it. Period.”

This move, regardless of ‘spin’, may violate the consent agreement that Google struck with the FTC wherein they agreed that Google could not sell user information to third parties without their optional consent.

This agreement was originally prompted by the FTC when Google attempted to use Gmail user data to launch Google Buzz, a now defunct social networking site added to the Google social graveyard. Inability to add their Gmail users to their social networking sites may very well have been a significant contributor to Google Buzz’s failure.

Privacy community supporters have already called the policy illegal according to Google’s FTC agreement, an agreement explicitly forbidding Google to force its users into new services–even ‘user enhancement’ services. Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, put forward that, “Google is not allowed, under the settlement, to opt users in. If Google goes forward, they may be hit with serious monetary penalties.”

Google has defended the move saying that under their new privacy policy users will give tacit consent, and despite the fact that they will mine significantly more user information they will still not be releasing or selling it to any third parties–thereby not violating the spirit of the consent agreement with the FTC.

Leading privacy lawmaker, Representative Edward Markey, has announced a probe into how exactly Google is mining and using its consumer data. Markey, who has a strong reputation upholding American privacy rights, is one of eight representatives (Republican signatories include:Cliff Stearns, Joe Barton and Marsha Blackburn, and Democratic signatories are: Markey, Henry Waxman, Dianne DeGette, G.K. Butterfield, and Jackie Speier) sending a letter to Google to probe into the matter – before requesting an FTC investigation. “While Google suggests that the purpose of this shift in policy is to make the consumer experience simpler, we want to make sure it does not make protecting consumer privacy more complicated,” wrote the representatives in their letter to Google’s Larry Page.

Apart from the other seven representatives, Markey plans to pursue the matter personally, “I plan to ask the Federal Trade Commission whether Google’s planned changes to its privacy policy violate Google’s recent settlement with the agency.”

Thankfully privacy advocate groups and lawmakers are investigating (and hopefully appealing) the matter, since Google users have no choice in the matter.

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