EPIC Seeks To Prevent Google's Privacy Changes


The advocacy group EPIC is seeking a court order requiring the Federal Trade Commission to take action against Google for its new privacy policy.

In papers filed on Wednesday with the federal court in the District of Columbia, EPIC argues that Google's planned update violates the settlement over Buzz. That agreement prohibits the company from sharing users' information more broadly than its privacy policy allowed at the time of collection.

Google's new privacy policy, which takes effect March 1, allows it to combine information about signed-in users across a variety of products and services, including Gmail, Android, and YouTube. Google intends to use the data to enable more precise ad targeting.

But EPIC argues that the shift also will give advertisers the ability to deduce more information about particular users. The group is asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction directing the FTC to sue Google. "The FTC’s failure to prevent the implementation of Google’s new Privacy Policy will cause irreparable harm to all Google users," EPIC alleges in its court papers.



EPIC says in its motion that advertisers' keywords can now "target YouTube and Google search histories, expanding the pool from which advertisers can obtain information about users." Therefore, EPIC argues, advertisers "can often access this additional information, in the form of the targeted keywords or searched-for phrase, when users click on the targeted ads."

But Google says that EPIC "is wrong on the facts and the law." The company says it isn't changing how any "personal information" is shared with outsiders.

Google, like other search engines, sends referrer headers to marketers when users click on their ads. Those headers often contain the phrases that were searched for. But Google doesn't send other data about users' search or YouTube histories.

EPIC also criticizes Google for its email to users about the change in policy. EPIC says that the message failed to inform users of the ways they could prevent the company from aggregating data about them. "Google’s email does not indicate that consumers may exercise control over their personal information at all, much less that they may either avoid signing in to their user accounts or create separate user accounts for separate Google services," EPIC argues.

Google also is facing pushback about its privacy policy changes in Congress and in the EU. So far, however, the company says it intends to proceed as planned.

EPIC previously filed a complaint with the FTC over how Google launched Buzz, which created social networks out of people's Gmail contacts. Google designed the now-defunct service so that it initially revealed information about the names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults.

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