FTC commissioner rails on Google for Buzz launch

Outgoing Federal Trade Commission member Pamela Jones Harbour on Wednesday hammered Google for what she said were the company's "irresponsible" privacy efforts.

While Harbour lambasted most Web firms, including Facebook and Microsoft, for failing to protect consumers' data, she took particular issue during the FTC's privacy summit with Google.

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The search giant's privacy track record has been the subject of considerable discussion since it launched Buzz, a social network appended automatically to users' Gmail accounts.

"I am especially concerned that technology companies are learning harmful lessons from each other's attempts to push the privacy envelop," Harbour said during the summit, as first reported by PC World. 

"Even the most respected and popular online companies, the ones who claim to respect privacy, continue to launch products where the guiding privacy policy seems to be, 'Throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks,'" she added.

She later described Google's decision to launch an opt-out version of Buzz this February as an example of "irresponsible conduct," as the service automatically followed Gmail users' most popular online contacts, sometimes without their permission or knowledge.

"When users created Gmail accounts, they signed up for e-mail services," she explained "Their expectations did not include social networking."

But Google fired back late Wednesday, stressing it has responded quickly and effectively to consumers' criticisms. A company spokesman added that privacy is always a "top of mind" concern for Google.

"When we realized that we'd unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly and made significant product improvements to address their concerns within 48 hours of launch," explained Google spokesman Brian Richardson. "Our door is always open to additional feedback as we continue to make improvements."