FTC Slaps Google for Buzz Debacle

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slapADOTAS – When thumbing through my Gmail, I sometimes hit the Buzz button by accident — when I do, an alarm goes off in my head (it sounds like a thousand children screaming, “NO! NO!”) and I race for the back button on my browser, trying to beat the Buzz homescreen before it loads. Several of my friends have tried Google’s poorly initiated social scheme and lived to tell, but I always think horrible things will happen if I accidentally log in…

The launch of Google Buzz didn’t just draw ire from users, online privacy advocates and media critics — the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint alleging that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own consumer privacy policy. And according to that complaint, users like me who opted out from the start were still enrolled in Buzz features. Nowhere is safe!

About a year later, Google announced that it has come to an agreement regarding the agency’s “concerns.” “We’ll receive an independent review of our privacy procedures once every two years, and we’ll ask users to give us affirmative consent before we change how we share their personal information” writes Alma Whitten, director of privacy for Google Product & Engineering, on the official company blog.

For some reason, the FTC didn’t approach the news in such a warm and cuddly fashion, noting that this is the first time an “FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information.” Also, those independent reviews will go on for the next 20 years.

Those of us in the online ad world shouldn’t be surprised that the FTC came down so hard — this is just the latest incident showing the FTC means serious business when it comes to online privacy. Are we sure the agency hasn’t been annexed by the European Commission?

As for Google, which apologized for the umpteenth time for screwing up the Buzz launch to such an unimaginable degree (I thought only Microsoft was that bad at product launches), it will be curious whether this further dampens company enthusiasm in the social department — which I thought was completely extinguished till I heard the presumed mythical Google Me social network will finally see the light of day at the May I/O event.

You think Facebook is going to get similarly raked over the coals about its online privacy snafus? Not if its cadre of former Beltway insiders can help it.

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