Google Buzz Settlement Draws Scrutiny From Library Group

by , Apr 15, 2011, 5:02 PM
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Google could be required to stop its online behavioral targeting efforts, if some affiliates of the influential New Jersey Library Association have their way.

The organization this week began circulating a draft of comments to the Federal Trade Commission regarding the proposed Google Buzz settlement. Among other suggestions, the draft proposes that Google should "stop behavioral profiling of Internet users" as part of the search company's new comprehensive privacy policy.

While other library groups have expressed concerns about whether Google will protect the privacy of people who read ebooks, none of those organizations appear to have objected to the company's use of behavioral targeting. Google, like other companies that serve ads based on Web sites people visit, says it doesn't collect users' names or other so-called personally identifiable data when engaging in behavioral targeting.

Google recently agreed to create a broad privacy policy in order to settle charges stemming from its rollout of the social-networking service Buzz. At launch, the service revealed some names of users' email contacts by default; those disclosures violated Google's privacy policy, according to the FTC and consumer advocates.

Although Google revised Buzz shortly after its launch, the company was unable to stem widespread criticism. Other terms of the tentative settlement require Google to submit to privacy audits and agree to obtain users' opt-in consent before using their data in new ways.

The FTC is accepting comments on the agreement until May 2.

A Google spokesperson said the company is not currently responding to comments submitted to the FTC regarding the Buzz settlement.

Patricia Tumulty, the New Jersey Library Association's executive director, says that the organization's board hasn't yet approved of the letter. But the draft, authored by Princeton-based attorney Grayson Barber, was posted online on Thursday. Barber works with the library group's intellectual freedom committee.

The New Jersey library group indicates that its proposals are drawn from the principle that people have the right to read anonymously. "In our experience, readers who visit Web sites and use Google have a reasonable expectation of privacy," the draft letter states. "That is to say, they believe they are anonymous. They are entitled to hold this belief, and should not be deceived by unfair practices that track their Internet use."

The library group's tentative letter also calls for Google to limit data retention periods to the shortest amount of time necessary, to establish privacy rights for users of Google Books, and to stop collecting users' IP addresses.

All of the additional privacy terms mentioned in the draft letter also appear as potential recommendations on a page called Fix Google Privacy created by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

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