The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging Google with failing to protect the personal data of Google Buzz users. The group filed a similar complaint last year against Facebook.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center
Feb. 16 filed
a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Google Buzz
violates federal consumer protection law.
According to EPIC, the complaint urges the FTC to
require Google to stop using Gmail users' private address book contacts to
establish lists of "followers" for Buzz and to "give Google users meaningful
control over their personal data."
"This is a significant
breach of consumers' expectations of privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, executive
director of EPIC,
in a statement. "Google should not be
allowed to push users' personal information into a social network they never
Google launched Buzz Feb.
9 as a challenge to social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. However, concerns
prompted the search engine giant to make changes to its
service just two days later. On Feb. 11, Google
announced it added
a checkbox in the profile setup to ensure users
acknowledged Buzz will show the names of the contacts they are following-as
well as who is following them-on their Google profile.
In addition, Google added
"Block" links to the list of people following users that work whether
or not the people following them have created profiles for themselves and added
clarity on which followers will appear on a user's Google profile.
In response to EPIC's complaint, a Google
spokesperson said the company is open to user feedback and is working
to address any concerns.
"We designed Buzz to make it easy for users to connect with other
people and have conversations about the things that interest them," the
spokesperson said. "We've already made a few changes based on user
feedback, and we have more improvements in the works. We look forward to
hearing more suggestions and will continue to improve the Buzz experience with
user transparency and control top of mind."
EPIC' s decision to file a FTC complaint mirrors the move
it made against Facebook
in December in the wake of controversy about
changes to Facebook
. Beyond the privacy issues, Google's approach to the
prospect of spam on Buzz is also coming under the microscope. Researchers at
Websense reported Feb. 11 finding a spam account that at the time it was
detected was "following" 237 people.
"The spam we've
so far is around people following other users," said Patrik Runald,
senior manager of security research at Websense. "When you get a new follower,
you get alerted to the fact and a prompt whether or not you want to follow them
back. It's here that we've seen a lot of spam accounts being used to follow
The particular account
Websense detected has not been active since Feb. 11, and the spam volumes
observed on Buzz thus far have been low, Runald said.
According to Google, there
are protections in place to help users deal with spam.
"E-mail messages and buzz
posts are inherently different in that anyone with your e-mail address can spam
you, but you choose who to follow in Buzz," a separate Google spokesperson
said. "If someone is following you whom you consider spammy, you can
always block them. We think the bigger potential for spam is in comments, and
we have spam and abuse detection in place to combat this."