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EPIC letter questions Google’s online consumer privacy

Just last April, Google Inc. settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it used “deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises” to consumers when it launched Google Buzz in 2010. Now, some critics claim Google still hasn’t learned from its online consumer privacy mistakes.

In a letter to the FTC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is pushing for an investigation because of more Google Search changes. EPIC said the inclusion in Google Search results of personal data, such as photos and contact details gathered from Google Plus, raises “concerns related to both competition and the implementation of the commission’s consent order.”

Under the settlement reached with the FTC in April, Google was required to implement a comprehensive privacy program and submit regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years.

“Google allows users to opt out of receiving search results that include personal data, but users cannot opt out of having their information found by their Google+ contacts by Google Search,” EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg wrote in the letter to the FTC. “In contrast, Google allows content owners to remove pages from Google’s public search results.”

The EPIC letter also contends Google’s changes create potential antitrust violations because the company prioritizes its own content when returning search results.

In Google’s official blog earlier this week, Google fellow Amit Singhal wrote a lengthy post outlining and explaining the benefits of Google Search Plus Your World. Singhal touted what he called the new feature’s “unprecedented” security, transparency and control. The company has also posted accolades from analysts and consumers touting Google’s Search Plus Your World.

The FTC has yet to comment publicly on EPIC’s letter and call for another investigation into Google’s online consumer privacy practices. But it’s worth noting that the last couple of times EPIC made similar complaints against high-profile Internet companies, it resulted in privacy-related FTC settlements for both Google and Facebook with the FTC.

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