Canadian Government Reviewing Google Buzz; U.S. Govt. Next?

Postscript, February 17: The CBC article cited below has reworded its article and now says the Canadian government is “reviewing” rather than “investigating” Buzz. A semantic distinction, perhaps, but there’s apparently no formal government investigation happening in Canada at the moment, so we’ve updated our headline, too. We’ve also received a statement from Google on this, and that’s appended at the end of this article.

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After a “challenging” first week for Google Buzz, week number two has begun with still more concerns over privacy, not to mention a government investigation in Canada and the potential for one in the U.S., too.

CBC News is reporting that Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner has opened an investigation into Google Buzz:

Valerie Lawton, a spokesperson for the office, said on Tuesday that Buzz is being investigated to see whether it violates Canadian privacy laws.

“We understand the public concern about privacy issues related to Google Buzz,” she said. “Our office is looking at the issue.”

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the government agency to open an investigation into Buzz. The complaint (PDF download) accuses Google of converting “the private, personal information of Gmail subscribers into public information for the company’s social network service Google Buzz. This change in business practices and service terms violated user privacy expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google’s own privacy policy, and may have also violated federal wiretap laws.”

The complaint recognizes that Google has made changes to Buzz in response to the loud backlash that surrounded its launch last week. But EPIC says those changes aren’t enough and asks the FTC to take four actions against Google:

Compel Google to make Google Buzz a fully opt-in service for Gmail users;

Compel Google to cease using Gmail users’ private address book contacts to compile social networking lists;

Compel Google to give Google Buzz users more control over their information, by allowing users to accept or reject followers from the outset; and

Provide such other relief as the Commission finds necessary and appropriate.

Speaking to the BBC, Google admitted that its testing of Google Buzz before launch was insufficient. Google relied solely on internal testing rather than opening Buzz to a larger group of testers outside the company.

Many of the firm’s new services are tested by the so-called Google Trusted Tester program, a network of friends and family of Google employees who are given confidential access to products before they launch.

Buzz was not tested by this program.

In response to the EPIC complaint today, a Google spokesperson told the LA Times that Google “welcome[s] dialogue with EPIC and appreciate[s] hearing directly from them about their concerns.” We have an email in to Google seeking comment about the Canadian government’s investigation and will update this post with any response we get.

Postscript: A Google spokesperson sent us a comment:

We have an open line with Canada’s privacy commissioner — we had an in-depth discussion with her about how Google Buzz works and about the changes we made. We’re always happy to hear from privacy commissioners in Canada and in other countries. We regularly brief them on new products and features either before or just following launch, both as a courtesy to them and as a way to get valuable feedback on our products.

Postscript from Greg Sterling: A federal US class action lawsuit was filed yesterday over Buzz privacy issues. According to the SF Chronicle:

The case was filed on Wednesday on behalf of Eva Hibnick, a Florida woman, by law firms in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. William Audet of Audet & Partners LLP in San Francisco declined to comment . . .

The legal complaint accuses Google of breaking various electronic communications laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The plaintiff is seeking injunctions to prevent the company from taking similar actions in the future, and unspecified monetary relief.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Google: Buzz | Google: Critics | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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