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Privacy group files Buzz complaint with FTC

Electronic Privacy Information Center says the Federal Trade Commission should compel Google to decouple Buzz from Gmail's address book, among other things.

Two changes in one week at Google Buzz weren't enough to satisfy the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The privacy group filed a complaint on Tuesday with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, seeking constraints on Google's new social-networking service.

"This complaint concerns an attempt by Google, Inc., the provider of a widely used e-mail service, to convert the private, personal information of Gmail subscribers into public information for the company's social network service Google Buzz," the complaint (PDF) reads. "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."

Privacy concerns have tarnished Google Buzz since its February 9 debut, in particular because the service constructed lists of people to follow and be followed based on their Gmail address books and activities. As a result, Google already made two rounds of changes to Buzz to inject some manual approval steps into the start-up process.

Washington, D.C.-based EPIC wants more, though, and requests that the FTC:

• 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.

In a response, Google said, "We designed Buzz to make it easy for users to connect with other people and have conversations about the things that interest them. Buzz was launched only a week ago. We've already made a few changes based on user feedback, and we have more improvements in the works."

Google took issue with one specific claim, though: "The suggestion that Google Buzz may violate federal wiretapping laws is not correct, and so far EPIC has not elaborated on the claim. Google Buzz follows the law, as do all of our services."

Google also said it welcomes direct communications from EPIC. "We look forward to hearing more suggestions and will continue to improve the Buzz experience with user transparency and control top of mind."

Separately, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is looking into Buzz privacy issues, the CBC News reported Tuesday.

Updated 10:04 a.m. PST and 11:15 p.m. PST: with comment from Google.