Today, five Congress members wrote to Rep. Henry Waxman to ask him to request Federal Trade Commission Chair Jon Leibowitz to brief lawmakers on the potential acquisition. The letter -- spurred by a New York Post report that the FTC is considering approving the deal -- follows up on an earlier missive to Leibowitz complaining about Buzz.
In today's letter, lawmakers present Waxman with a list of potential questions for Leibowitz. In addition to competition issues, the letter specifically addresses privacy. "Given the vast amount of data on consumers' behavior and preferences that the combined company would control, has the commission assured itself that the deal, if approved, would have sufficient safeguards to protect consumers' privacy?" the letter asks. It was signed by Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Steve Scalise (R-La.).
When Google launched Buzz, the feature initially revealed information about the names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults. Immediately reports poured in complaining that the feature could reveal confidential information, such as the names of journalists' confidential sources.
Google quickly revised the service, but too late to completely ease concerns about how completely the company could compromise people's privacy.
A Google spokesperson argues that the company has a good history when it comes to privacy. "Google has a track record of providing strong privacy protections and tools for users to take control or opt out of data collection, and we will apply the same approach to privacy following this acquisition," he says.
Certainly until the Buzz incident, Google was perceived as protective of privacy. While critics rightfully complain that Google's decision to retain IP logs tying particular addresses to search queries poses a risk, the company has done a fairly good job of keeping that information confidential.
But the thing about privacy is that it only takes one mistake to permanently compromise users' data. And, in Google's case, that mistake could fuel distrust that lasts a long time.