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US Congressmen petition FTC to investigate Google privacy practices

US Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus [official website], and Cliff Stearns, of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [official website], sent a letter [text, PDF] to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] on Friday asking it to look into possibly unlawful privacy practices by Google. The letter was a response to a Wall Street Journal article [text] published Friday, which charged that Google has been bypassing privacy settings of the Safari [official website] web browser so that it can track users without their consent. Safari, which is the default web-browser on all Apple products and most used browser on all mobile devices, is designed to block websites from being able to track users. Google got around this by using a special code that prevented Safari from recognizing it and allowed it to track users through almost any website. In their letter, the Congressmen asked the FTC to investigate whether these practices are in violation of a 2011 settlement agreement [JURIST report] it reached with the Commission after a breach of privacy rights during the launch of its social networking site Google Buzz. Under the settlement, Google is prohibited from misrepresenting its privacy policies to consumers and and must obtain consent from users before sharing their information with third parties.

The Congressmen also said that these practices are a "major concern" in light of the controversy surrounding announcement of its new privacy policy [text] set to take place on March 1. Earlier this month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy website], a consumer privacy research center, filed suit [JURIST report] against Google, alleging that the new policy is in violation of its settlement agreement. Legality of the new policy has also been called into question by the EU, which sent a letter [JURIST report] to Google earlier this month asking it to delay implementation until it can fully investigate the policy. That letter was sent a day after Google responded to a letter from US Congressmen [JURIST reports] posing 11 questions about how consumer privacy rights will be affected by the changes.

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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