An outgoing FTC commissioner has slammed Google over the way it launched Google Buzz last month, calling the episode a case of “irresponsible conduct.” According to PC World, FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour also said Google and other online companies may face tougher penalties if they don’t do a better job of protecting consumer privacy.
The PC World article includes some strongly-worded criticisms about how Google launched its Buzz social networking service:
“Google consistently tells the public to ‘just trust us,’” she said. “But based on my observations, I do not believe consumer privacy played any significant role in the release of Buzz.”
A reasonable consumer would conclude that the launch of Buzz was a “material change” their relationship with Google’s Gmail, she said. “When users created Gmail accounts, they signed up for e-mail services,” she said. “Their expectations did not include social networking.”
Negative reaction to Buzz was quick and widespread after its February 9th launch. Google immediately began changing how Buzz works, and eventually issued a public apology that said Google “failed to appreciate that users have differing privacy expectations.”
But Commissioner Harbour also took exception to that approach during today’s FTC privacy workshop.
“I would like to see the commission take the position of intolerance toward companies that push the privacy envelop, then backtrack and modify their offerings after facing consumer and regulator backlash.”
Harbour, whom PC World says is leaving the FTC next month, also spoke critically of Facebook’s long-running privacy issues, and called for online companies to use encryption more often to protect their users personal data.