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Google Buzz Settlement: Privacy Audits For 20 Years

By Adam Ramirez on April 05, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

Google has entered into a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address perceived privacy violations relating to the social network, Google Buzz.

The Google Buzz settlement requires Google to implement a comprehensive privacy program and to be subject to independent privacy audits for the next 20 years.

Why could this end up being a big deal?

Google found itself in the cross-hairs of the FTC with respect to alleged deceptive tactics and violations of Google's privacy practices having to do with Google Buzz.

According to the FTC, Google had given its Gmail email users the impression that they could choose if they wanted to join the network, while the options for declining Buzz actually were ineffective.

In addition, the FTC asserted that Google's controls for limiting the sharing of personal information were confusing and difficult to implement. For example, Buzz contained a feature that allowed it to publicly list a user's frequent email contacts; while this feature could be turned off, the default setting was to leave it on.

The Google Buzz settlement does serve notice to other companies that the FTC is watching and checking to ascertain whether privacy promises in policies actually are adhered to in practice.

However, the penalty as to Google is not too severe. Yes. Google needs to develop a comprehensive privacy policy, and it will be subject to independent privacy auditing for 20 years. But it is in Google's best interests anyway to have sound privacy policies and practices.

Creating an atmosphere of security and safety for the personal information of customers equates to good business. Users will tend to gravitate over time to places on the Internet where they know that their private information will not be compromised.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP ( where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is and he can be reached at To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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