Consumer watchdog sues to stop Google privacy changes

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to force the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block Google's planned changes to its privacy settings.

EPIC argued that Google's privacy changes violate a previous settlement with the FTC over the now-defunct Google Buzz social network.

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"The FTC has thus far failed to take any action regarding this matter, placing the privacy interests of literally hundreds of millions of Internet users at grave risk," EPIC wrote in a complaint filed in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

A Google spokeswoman said, "EPIC is wrong on the facts and the law."

Google has come under fire from privacy advocates since it announced last month it will consolidate the privacy policies of its various services into a single document.

The change allows Google to share user information between its services. Words in private emails could influence search results on YouTube, for example.

The company says the change makes its privacy policy easier to understand and will help it tailor search results to individual users. Google officials note that users can still adjust their privacy settings.

The changes go into effect on March 1.

Last year, Google settled with the FTC over charges that it violated its own privacy policy by automatically opting users into Google Buzz.

The settlement bars Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies and requires the company to obtain consent from its users before changing how it shares their information with third parties, such as advertisers.

In its lawsuit, EPIC argued that Google's recent privacy changes violate the settlement by "failing to obtain affirmative consent from users prior to sharing their information with third parties" and by misrepresenting the extent to which the company protects users' private information.

The Google spokeswoman said the new privacy policy does not affect the information the company shares with third parties.

"We’ve undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history to ensure that users have many opportunities and ample time to learn about our Privacy Policy changes," she said. "And we’re continuing to offer choice and control over how people use Google services."