Google, FTC Bury the Axe Over Google Buzz

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Google and the Federal Trade Commission just agreed to make nice over allegations the company’s online conversation-starter Google Buzz violated privacy rights and tricked users into trying the service.

Not that Google’s off the hook. The proposed settlement would task Google with putting into place a “comprehensive privacy program,” and require that the company submit to independent privacy checkups once every two years.

When Buzz launched, it automatically pushed Gmail members’ address books to anyone included in their list, a shocking move that infuriated many. In one of the more notorious cases (NSFW), a Google Buzz user hiding from her allegedly abusive ex-husband unintentionally sent him her contact (and location) info.

Google’s certainly feeling conciliatory. Google privacy director Alma Whitten wrote on the company’s official blog that “[t]he launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control–letting our users and Google down.” Indeed.

Once the new privacy features are in place, Whitten says Google will “ask users to give…affirmative consent” before changing how it shares their personal info.

Good news for consumers, though we’re still on the hook to ensure the company enacts the FTC’s requirements in a way that’s transparent and friendly. Simply asking for affirmative consent isn’t always enough–especially if the explanation of what you’re consenting to is obscure or misleading.