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Google today said it is willing to hear a privacy group’s concerns about its Google Buzz social media platform, even after the group filed a complaint with the FTC over the controversial service.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed the complaint Tuesday in Washington, arguing that Buzz, which builds a network of friends for Gmail users from the contacts in their e-mail program, violates users’ privacy.
“Our door is always open to organizations with suggestions about our products and services,” read an e-mail from a Google spokesperson. “We also welcome dialogue with EPIC and appreciate hearing directly from them about their concerns.”
EPIC said in its complaint that the way Buzz was designed and deployed constitutes “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” which makes Buzz subject to review by the FTC.
That thing about violating wiretapping laws caught my eye – most people (me, for example) think of wiretapping as bugging someone’s phone — so I called Kim Nguyen, a legal counsel for EPIC for an explanation.
Nguyen says Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including Google, are subject to the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which covers wiretapping. Although the act was passed way back in the 1960s, court precedent has extended the law to apply to e-mail communications. Under the ECPA, ISPs are prohibited from disclosing personal subscriber information, such as e-mail contacts, Nguyen said.
VentureBeat reported last night that Canada’s privacy commissioner is also looking into Buzz.
Google has been suffering Toyota-level negative publicity over Buzz, which was launched Feb. 9 after Gmail subscribers — EPIC says they total 37 million – were invited to try it out, and many did. Some were alarmed to discover that their e-mail contacts had become public on their Buzz profile. Subscribers also found it difficult to delete people from their profile.
Google reiterated today that it’s working to fix Buzz, although it did not specifically address the issues in EPIC’s FTC complaint.
“Buzz was launched only a week ago. 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,” the statement said.
Update: Late this afternoon, Google amended its earlier statement: “The suggestion that Google Buzz may violate federal wiretapping laws is not correct. Google Buzz follows the law, as do all of our services.”
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