Markey Urges FTC to Investigate Whether Google’s Policy Change Violates Privacy Settlement
Washington (October 12, 2013) – In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is calling on the FTC to investigate Google’s recent update to its Terms of Service, which will enable the company to display user names, photos and other personal information in online advertising unless users explicitly opt out. Sen. Markey’s letter also asks the FTC whether Google’s these changes violate of its settlement with the FTC reached after the company’s previous privacy misrepresentations. On Friday, Google announced it was altering its Terms of Service so consumers would have to “opt-out” of Google’s use of their names, photos, and other personal information in Google advertising. This opt-out, however, would not prevent Google from using consumer’s personal information as part of endorsements on other Google properties.
“With Google’s planned policy change, I am concerned that consumers – who post their comments and opinions across the Web - may now find themselves enlisted as unwitting endorsers for products in Google advertisements,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Without users’ explicit permission, Google should not take consumer posts and turn them into product endorsements.”
“When Google announced policy changes last year to follow the activities of its users across nearly all its services, I expressed concern that privacy and consumer control were at risk. I urge the FTC to look into this new proposed change to determine whether Google violated the terms of its consent agreement, and I will continue to closely monitor this latest development.”
Full text of Senator Markey’s letter is below.
October 12, 2013
The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
Under the new advertisement policy, called “shared endorsements”, users’ names and pictures, along with their ratings or comments, could appear in advertisements on any of the millions of Web sites that comprise Google’s display advertising network. For example, if a user follows a restaurant on Google Plus, that user’s name, photo, and positive endorsement may be displayed in advertisements for that restaurant that friends and others see.
I understand that, according to Google’s Terms of Service Update: “When it comes to shared endorsements in ads, you can control the use of your Profile name and photo via the Shared Endorsements setting. If you turn the setting to “off,” your Profile name and photo will not show up on that ad for your favorite bakery or any other ads.” Nevertheless, Google’s Update continues: “This setting only applies to use in ads, and doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.”
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please have a member of your staff contact Joseph Wender at 202-224-2742.
Edward J. Markey