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[ NNSquad ] EPIC's "Google Privacy Lawsuit" Against FTC Doesn't Hold Water

        EPIC's "Google Privacy Lawsuit" Against FTC Doesn't Hold Water


In the wake of Google's announced privacy policy changes and
consolidations ( http://j.mp/zGDsTW [Google] ), which I discussed in
considerable detail within "Google's Privacy Policy Changes:
Revolution? Evolution? Or Confusion?" ( http://j.mp/yPZ27Y 
[Lauren's Blog] ), now comes word that EPIC (the Electronic Privacy
Information Center) has filed suit against the FTC (Federal Trade 
Commission), asserting that the FTC is not enforcing the terms of 
their 2011 consent decree with Google ( http://j.mp/xsY0aa [L.A. Times] ).

EPIC has done a lot of great work in the past, but of late seems to
find claimed fault with virtually everything Google does.

What's really a head-scratcher in the case of this new suit is that
you don't need to be a lawyer to question its veracity, you need only
read over the relevant documents for yourself.

Nobody can reasonably claim that Google hasn't given plenty of notice
about these changes.  Between Google's associated blog postings,
website notices, and email notifications on this issue, there arguably
hasn't been so much global attention to an Internet-oriented policy
topic for quite a long while.

The key focus of EPIC's lawsuit appears to be Google's plans to
consolidate user data across various services associated with
individual Google accounts ( http://j.mp/x0fLWP [EPIC {pdf}] )

But as I've previously noted, the consolidation of Google privacy
policies can only reasonably be viewed as a positive for users, and an
individual account is the logical unit for data consolidation as well,
enhancing user services capabilities in significant ways 
( http://j.mp/yPZ27Y [Lauren's Blog]).

Given that Google is not increasing the amount of data being collected
or sharing personally identifiable user information with third
parties, and since users can easily create multiple free Google
accounts to separate their services usage if they really desire such
compartmentalization, it's difficult to see what all the fuss is
actually about.

In particular, the FTC consent decree with Google (relating to the
launch of Google Buzz, a controversy that I've always felt was
significantly overblown) includes this language 
( http://j.mp/yMuBkW [FTC] {pdf}] ):

       "Third party" shall mean any individual or entity other than:
       (1) respondent; (2) a service provider of respondent that: (i)
       uses or receives covered information collected by or on behalf
       of respondent for and at the direction of the respondent and no
       other individual or entity, (ii) does not disclose the data, or
       any individually identifiable information derived from such
       data, to any individual or entity other than respondent, and
       (iii) does not use the data for any other purpose; or (3) any
       entity that uses covered information only as reasonably
       necessary: (i) to comply with applicable law, regulation, or
       legal process, (ii) to enforce respondent's terms of use, or
       (iii) to detect, prevent, or mitigate fraud or security

EPIC appears to be claiming that the new Google privacy policy changes
will somehow violate the third-party aspects of the consent decree.

This appears to be utterly erroneous.  If I choose to use multiple
Google services under a single Google account, I'm still just one

There's no "third party" involved if my Google searches are used to
help tailor the ads I'm shown on YouTube, as well as on Google Search
itself.  It's all one account. It's me, myself, and I!  Look in the
mirror if you dare -- it's still the same person.

Google's privacy policy changes don't share my personal account data
with other parties.  They don't even share my data between separate
Google accounts I can choose to use for different Google services if I

You can reread the consent decree until you go cross-eyed, but EPIC's
complaint still dissolves into the same sort of phantasm as a dream
that fades from memory within moments of waking -- there's no real
substance there at all.

I won't speculate about the motives behind the various parties spewing
hateful hyperbole about all this, beyond saying that it's obvious that
Google's competitors would love to see Google prevented from engaging
in innovation whenever possible.

But from my standpoint, it's the users themselves who matter most.  If
Google were commingling personal data between separate Google user
accounts, or providing personal data to actual third parties, there
could indeed be cause for concern.

However, that's *not* what's happening, and users still have full control
over how they use Google services -- with single accounts, multiple
accounts, or for some services with no accounts at all.

And once again, the consolidation of more than 60 different privacy
policies into just a few is a definite plus for users.

It is ultimately detrimental to the cause of genuine privacy concerns
to view every change from the status quo as automatically negative.
Such an approach tends to perpetuate the same sort of toxic
environment that has enveloped so much of our public discourse, to no
good end.

If nothing else, it would be extremely useful if we engaged in
dialogues on these issues based on a foundation of facts, rather than
emotional mischaracterizations.

Something to ponder perhaps, both regarding Internet issues, and in
relation to the other aspects of our lives as well.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com 
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com

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