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US watchdog eyes billions in fines from Google

Wants a full figured fine
Tue Feb 26 2013, 17:09

UNITED STATES CONSUMER ASSOCIATION Consumer Watchdog is annoyed with Google over its persistent privacy transgressions and third party peeping and wants it to be fined billions.

Consumer Watchdog is incensed over the earlier revelation that Google, which earlier drove WiFi snuffling cars around the globe and launched an intrusive social network, is sharing users' personal information with apps developers.

Benjamin Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School late last week disputed that Google's promises to keep users' data confidential had any basis.

This sort of thing will get your consumer rights and privacy campaigners' goat, and Consumer Watchdog thinks that Google will have to pay a lot to make amends, especially since it was recently told to pay up and stop playing up.

"Google has become a serial privacy abuser (PDF) and the FTC must change its tactics to curb the Internet giant's abuses. Google's wanton disregard for its obligations under the law demonstrate the need for meaningful penalties - in this case a fine in the billions of dollars," said Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, John M. Simpson.

A seven page letter sent to Charles A. Harwood, acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), lays out Consumer Watchdog's case.

It reminds Harwood about the FTC and Google's recent brush over Safari cookies, and the time when the FTC said that it had a "firm belief" that the $22.5m fine it levied against Google was sufficient to deter any future transgressions.

"The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC in September last year.

"No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place."

The letter says that the recent revelation adds more weight to the sanction that Google deserves.

"This represents the fifth significant misuse of confidential user data by Google in the last three years (previously, the "Wi Spy" scandal, the Google Buzz fiasco, Google's improper combining and use of personal data, and the Safari Hacking episode)," it adds.

"To reiterate, with this letter we formally lodge a complaint about Google's most recent Buzz Order violation the disclosure of confidential user information to independent application developers. We request immediate Commission action to rectify Google's conduct and to compel Google's future adherence to the law and to its obligations under the Buzz Order."

Google told The INQUIRER that what it shares is standard transaction processing data.

"Google Wallet shares the information needed to process transactions and maintain accounts, and this is clearly stated in the Google Wallet Privacy Notice," said a spokesperson. "It's fully compliant with the law and our consent decree." µ


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