Privacy Group Petitions FTC Over Google’s New Privacy Policy

Pressure mounting on FTC

Pressure is mounting on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the changes to Google's privacy policies slated for March 1. Adding to the stack of letters from lawmakers and privacy advocates, the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer privacy organizations, petitioned the FTC Wednesday to review Google's policy changes, charging that Google did not come clean with consumers as to why they are being made.

Google announced last month it was consolidating some 60 privacy policies across its products and services into one main privacy policy, allowing it to track users across all its platforms. In explaining the change, Google said it would result in a "simpler, more intuitive" experience for consumers.

But the CDD argues in its petition that Google is talking out of both sides of its mouth, saying one thing to advertisers and the business community, and another to the consumers who must make decisions about protecting their own privacy.

"An analysis of Google's business operations over the last year will demonstrate the true rationale for the changes to its privacy policy, which has nothing to do with making it 'easier' or 'more convenient' for users," the CDD complaint said. "In particular, Google fails to inform its users that the new privacy regime is based on its own business imperatives….Google should have explained to consumers what it told a private industry meeting, that to help fulfill its February 2011 prediction that display advertising will be a $200-billion-dollar global industry, it would need to better integrate user data across platforms and application using digital ad marketing automation."

After Google announced the planned changes in January, the FTC got an earful from lawmakers, privacy advocates and was even named in a lawsuit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which is asking the court to compel the FTC to investigate whether or not Google's planned changes violate its privacy consent decree with the FTC.

"We hope this notches up pressure on the FTC to force Google to back down," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the CDD. "I think this complaint will provide insight into Google's actual business practices so the FTC can act in the Google case. All along I've said, what Google needs to tell their consumers is what they tell each other and to publications like Adweek."