Privacy advocates ask the FTC to look into new Google Buzz social network

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocate, today asked the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation of Google's new social networking tool, Google Buzz.

EPIC, a non-profit based in Washington, complained that Google turned private, personal information into public, searchable information for the social networking tool without giving users any warning.

"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. In some instances, there were clear harms to service subscribers," EPIC wrote in the complaint.

The group estimates 37 million Gmail users were affected.

Last week, Google tried to transform its popular Gmail e-mail system into a type of social network by pulling in feeds from sites such as Flickr, Picasa and Twitter. Google Buzz also displayed social networking lists based on users' most frequently e-mailed address book contacts, essentially leaking Gmail users' e-mail records.

The move was quickly criticized by users and in blogs, prompting Google to apologize "for the concern we've caused." Google now requires users to opt in to the new service before Google Buzz automatically starts following your contact list.

In March, EPIC asked the FTC to investigate Google's cloud computing services, alleging that Google had "failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy and security of users." The FTC has not announced a formal inquiry into Google, although it has indicated it will examine cloud computing more generally.