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EPIC Urges FTC To Investigate Google Services 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the might-as-well-set-up-shop-at-the-googleplex dept.
snydeq writes "The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a 15-page complaint asking the FTC to force Google to stop offering online services that collect data until the presence of adequate privacy safeguards is verified. The EPIC also wants Google to disclose all data loss or breach incidents, citing several incidents where data held by Google was at risk, the most recent of which occurred earlier this month with its Google Docs. The EPIC complaint [PDF] also listed other security flaws in Gmail and Google Desktop, a desktop indexing program, and urged Google to donate $5 million to a public fund that will support research into technologies such as encryption, data anonymization and mobile location privacy." EPIC has raised privacy concerns about Google before, and about Windows XP as well.
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EPIC Urges FTC To Investigate Google Services

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  • by the cleaner (1641) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:22PM (#27243017) Homepage Journal

    Really?! Does that mean I have to remove all my mail from GMail?!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:23PM (#27243029)

    Stick with Microsoft if you want security.

    • by Duncan3 (10537)

      Even funnier, they think FTC > CIA and NSA, the government agencies working with Google (that's their job, we the taxpayers pay them to watch Google)

  • Uh huh... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ...and let me guess, they will be running that fund? *rolls eyes*

    Just what we need, another busy-body self-proclaimed agency trying to control private industry. WTF do these guys come from?
  • The real reason... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:26PM (#27243093)

    From TFA:

    "It also would like the company to donate $5 million to a public fund that will support research into technologies such as encryption, data anonymization and mobile location privacy."

    The real reason for the filing is hidden in the last paragraph.

    • by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunity@yah ... minus herbivore> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:04PM (#27243659) Homepage

      Not hidden very well. Just where do you think that $5M would go?

      EPIC sounds like a public research entity. Gee, I wonder if they would be asking the FTC to fine Google and give the money back to EPIC.

      I try not to be skeptical all the time, but news like this consistently reinforces my view that freeloaders will always be out there trying to take what they can't earn from people who are more successful than they are.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You Fail, Epic !!

    No 5M for you !!

  • "Beta" apps? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ryane67 (768994) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:26PM (#27243109)
    Does it make any difference that many of these Google services are free and "in beta"? (didnt read the filing)
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why yes. Beta apps are allowed to suck

  • by Hoyty1 (1502645) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:32PM (#27243191) Homepage Journal
    I just live with the assumption that everyone is reading my documents and information. That's why I write everything important on paper! Good old paper... Kindle will never replace you...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      There are a number of exploits for paper based storage. Amongst the most commonly used are Photocopiers & Fax machines. In the end no storage medium is absolutely safe.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        But to exploit paper you have to gain physical access to it. To exploit information online and 'in the cloud' you do not need physical access to it.

        There are, of course, other difficulties involved but that's the simple version.

        • True but it's still generally pretty easy to gain access to it. And lets face it most black hat's are not above gaining physical access either to the paper with the info or the PC. My point was nothing is 100% secure. Thinking paper is secure is a foolish approach plenty data breaches have happened purely because someone didn't shred before binning an important document then there's the all too frequent instances of some numpty leaving a file containing top secret info (Even when it had the same on the c
      • by Hoyty1 (1502645)
        You're right! Better just start carving all secret information into the side of my arms and legs.
        • by David_W (35680)

          Better just start carving all secret information into the side of my arms and legs.

          How do I know I can trust you not to reveal my secret information?

      • by chaim79 (898507)

        In the end no storage medium is absolutely safe.

        Memorize all important data! Your brain is the only data storage device that only you can use! Sure data retention rates aren't all that great and corrupted data happens now and then, but still, no-one can gain unauthorized access to the information stored in your brain! :)

    • by Pope (17780)

      Kindle will never replace you

      *sigh* it's so true, I can't start a damn fire anymore.

    • Kindle will never replace you...

      But if needed, you can certainly replace kindling. Never underestimate the power of a truly destructible medium.

  • good (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@yBLUEahoo.com minus berry> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:34PM (#27243213) Homepage Journal

    " The EPIC also wants Google to disclose all data loss or breach incidents, citing several incidents where data held by Google was at risk,..."

    Good, I hope they get their way.
    However, if Google s forced to do that, I suspect there efforts to be better at privacy will make the 5 millin dollar donation unnecessary.

    • MOD PARENT UP! First non-cynical comment.

      It's good that we have organizations that supervise privacy issues. The issues are far too complicated for an individual to supervise.
    • by WeeBit (961530)
      nah...

      Google will hand over the money, and some how the data loss or breach incidents will be forgotten.

      Follow the cash.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:35PM (#27243237)

    You know, I might have taken them a bit more seriously if the summary didn't end with and urged Google to donate $5 million to a public fund. So that's what it's about then -- money. Political statements that end in requests for donation do a good job of discrediting themselves simply because it's hard to believe that someone could be walking the high road of idealism while at the same time asking for a handout.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, these days, even EPIC could use a little bit of a bailout. As an AIG employee, it seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me. We cannot allow privacy groups to fail.

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:57PM (#27243571)

        Well, these days, even EPIC could use a little bit of a bailout. As an AIG employee, it seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me. We cannot allow privacy groups to fail.

        EPIC's gross income for FY2007 was less than a million dollars, and they have about $2 million in assets. They've been steadily losing ground in the donations department. A $5 million "public fund" they could dive into would assure there continued existance (and $128k yearly salary for their president) for some time. I think the financial motivation here is quite clear. Their relevance, however, is not. The ACLU, by comparison, had $80 million in revenue in Q3/07 alone. The administrative overhead is also lower, and they claim to also be advocating privacy. Frankly, EPIC is a tiny finish in a big pond--they need to grab headlines to survive, and attacking Google seems carefully calculated to do just that. Google's "do no evil" slogan opens themselves up to groups like this who want a handout and can manipulate the press to get Google to sign over some of their $5.2 BILLION in revenue for FY2008, and $12.1 BILLION in assets.

        So for Google to pay them some hush money wouldn't even earn a mention in their financial highlights, but for EPIC, it would be, well, epic for them to pull in $5 million.

        • Footnote: I really hate Firefox's auto-spell check/fix. I meant their, not there, and "fish", not "finish". u_u I have now disabled that misfeature (again). Firefox likes to eat my config file and I wind up resetting my settings every month or so because of this.

    • Do you care about privacy? Enough to fork over your own money to watchdog organizations that hold potential privacy breachers accountable?

      The "high road of idealism" has nothing to do with it. Nor is encouraging donations to a public fund a handout. Basically your entire concern here is a strawman, albeit one that is may be rooted in your own naivete.

      • Do you care about privacy? Enough to fork over your own money to watchdog organizations that hold potential privacy breachers accountable?

        Yes and yes. I have donated to the EFF and the ACLU before, multiple times. I also participated in various privacy protests here locally in Minnesota and have written letters to my legislators on approximately a half-dozen occasions.

        Basically your entire concern here is a strawman, albeit one that is may be rooted in your own naivete.

        Sir, you need to accept that you just might not know what the hell you're talking about. You make an assumption about me based on nothing I have posted on this forum or online, I do not know you personally, so there is no way you could be aware of my level of involvement in thes

        • What assumptions? I asked you too clarify two points, beyond which I couldn't care less about you or your motivations.

          Also, my "argument" -- such a big word for a simple observation -- is not a straw man [wikipedia.org]. I have made no statement regarding the validity of EPIC's claims about Google.

          We'll get to why your concern is a strawman in a sec.

          But first, the word "argument" does not appear in my earlier post, yet you use it in quotation marks to accuse me of using overly big words. One wonders how the hell "argument", an 8 letter word, is "such a big word for a simple observation", when "simple observation" is composed of more than twice as many letters? Moreover, misattribut

          • Please get off my leg.

          • by Ragzouken (943900)
            I won't even bother with the rest of your post, but you are guilty yourself of Strawman. You're misrepresenting the claim that "argument" is "such a big word for a simple observation" as the incredibly weak argument that "argument" is 'such a long word for a simple observation' rather than the true intention that is more likely to be that "argument" is the wrong word to describe his "simple observation".
            • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

              Its incredibly weak to assert a "true intention" when all you have is a "likely" alternative.

              I think the problem is that you don't understand the meaning of "for". Of course, if you actually think that "argument" is a big word. . .

              • by Ragzouken (943900)

                Whether on not my example of a possible true intention is weak or not is irrelevant. The true intention was clearly not to comment on the number of characters in the word. A point which your weak critical thinking nazism has yet to address.

                In addition to this it seems that "Of course, if you actually think "argument" is a big word. . ." is a false appeal to ridicule.

                • Is "argument" a big word by any standard!? Since you continue to defend the point, my appeal to ridicule clearly isn't false.

                  A point which your weak critical thinking nazism has yet to address.

                  Paging Godwin. . .please report to a white courtesy telephone. . .

                  • by Ragzouken (943900)

                    More ridicule. You seem completely unwilling to concede on this issue, despite both it being obviously wrong, and nothing your argument relies upon.

                    You've changed your argument now. It's gone from denying that your response about the character length of "argument" was a misrepresentation of the author's intended point, to arguing that "argument" could not be considered a big word "by any standard".

                    "argument" can be considered a big word for a 'simple observation' in the sense that it is too grand a title fo

                    • I already conceded that I was ridiculing you. Not sure why you are at such pains to reiterate that I think very little of your argument here.

                      I very clearly compared "argument" and "simple observation" on number of characters. You (and not OP) are arguing that OP was contrasting "argument" and "simple observation" based on some fundamental difference in meaning. If such a distinction exists, OP was obviously not making a simple observation. OP was reading between the lines to draw a conclusion and level

    • The founder of this non-profit is a genius!

      1. create non-profit with catchy name
      2. issue press releases
      3. complain to government agencies
      4. blackmail large companies for donations
      5. profit!

      Those extra two steps separate it from the pack.

    • by dedazo (737510)

      I agree, although historically these orgs tend to be good counterbalances to large corporations and they are usually understaffed and underfunded. At least they're being upfront about it, they could have called Google yesterday and "suggested" a donation in exchange for a more lenient press release or something. And it's not like Google can't afford to take a $5M write off and look good in the process.

      That said, I have no idea how well established this organization is. If they're just a fly-by-night deal th

      • You're concerned that EPIC might be a fly-by-night? Our UID's are in the same order of magnitude--how could you be so unfamiliar with an organization that has, by and large, been quite popular with the Slashdot crowd for at least a decade? [slashdot.org] (Can I search back before 1999?)
        • by dedazo (737510)

          Well, I honestly don't remember hearing about them before today. That doesn't really mean much though, especially if they mostly appeared on YRO stories, which I've been blocking from the front page view for years.

    • by R2.0 (532027)

      Jesse Jackson ate lunch off of that tactic for years. The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition would issue a press release stating there were concerns that Company X was discriminating, and that the Coalition was looking at it. JJ or his henchman would show up there and explain that, although there was strong evidence the company was discriminating, they could show their good intentions by making a significant "donation" to a well respected minority empowerment organization. Such as Rainbow/PUSH. Money would be depos

    • by garett_spencley (193892) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:19PM (#27243923) Journal

      If people are concerned about their privacy and don't trust Google then they will avoid google products. Plain and simple.

      If the government steps in and starts requiring companies to comply with various privacy regulations etc. it will only serve to discourage new entry into the industry, helping Google to secure a monopoly on online services. It would do the exact opposite of what privacy advocates want.

      There are lots of alternatives out there if you don't want Google to have access to all of your e-mail and search history etc. If you don't care and Google satisfies you then it doesn't matter, use Google. If you are concerned then don't use Google. We don't need the government to help us make these decisions. We can think and choose for ourselves, and discussing these issues is the first step to informing people who don't know. Asking government to keep us safe helps to safe-guard public ignorance, since they know that Big Brother will always have their backs and thus there is no need to think, listen or do research for themselves. That spells a far worse privacy nightmare than the current situation.

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:36PM (#27244165)

        If people are concerned about their privacy and don't trust Google then they will avoid google products. Plain and simple.

        Ah, not necessarily. You assume that people care more about privacy than accessibility and ease of use. This fails to account for people that may be concerned about their privacy, don't trust google, but use it anyway because their level of risk (loss of privacy) is less than the amount of benefit in continuing to use Google. I could argue that market forces allow Google more egregious violations of privacy than its smaller competitors; And further that this is okay because people are making a conscious decision to sacrifice their privacy to gain the "google advantage" (apologies for the market-speak). Please carefully note I am not supporting either position here, merely informing you that they exist.

        If the government steps in and starts requiring companies to comply with various privacy regulations etc. it will only serve to discourage new entry into the industry, helping Google to secure a monopoly on online services. It would do the exact opposite of what privacy advocates want.

        Your health care records are protected by federal privacy laws. There is no monopoly (there IS a large broken system, however) in that area. As well, California has passed numerous privacy laws that do not seem to encourage monopolistic behavior. As long as the burden of protecting privacy does not create a significant addition to the total cost of entry for a new competitor into the market in question, this principle should be broadly applicable to all industries (including search engine / service providers).

        There are lots of alternatives out there if you don't want Google to have access to all of your e-mail and search history etc.

        I would argue they all suck. Google at least makes that information readily accessible and usable to me. The alternatives still get all my e-mail and search history, but I don't get even a cuddle afterwords.

        We don't need the government to help us make these decisions.

        And what decisions should the government "help us" on, if not in the area of civil rights and liberties, of which the Supreme Court has recognized privacy as an inalienable human right (even though there is no language in the constitution providing for it -- under the assertion that rights not specifically delegated to the State are reserved by the People).

        We can think and choose for ourselves, and discussing these issues is the first step to informing people who don't know.

        I would argue some of us are merely rearranging our prejudices in what passes for thought. And nowhere is discussion more valuable or prevalent than on the legislator's floor, or in his/her office.

        Asking government to keep us safe helps to safe-guard public ignorance, since they know that Big Brother will always have their backs and thus there is no need to think, listen or do research for themselves. That spells a far worse privacy nightmare than the current situation.

        The government, at least in theory, is of, for, and by the people. I don't think corporations can say the same. For privacy to be effective, it has to be universal. Because otherwise the economic incentive to people who aren't playing the "privacy game" will remain and so no lasting industry alliance will ever form. The only way to assure privacy across the board is to legislate it.

        • "Ah, not necessarily. You assume that people care more about privacy than accessibility and ease of use. This fails to account for people that may be concerned about their privacy, don't trust google, but use it anyway because their level of risk (loss of privacy) is less than the amount of benefit in continuing to use Google. I could argue that market forces allow Google more egregious violations of privacy than its smaller competitors; And further that this is okay because people are making a conscious de

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:57PM (#27243573)

    You know, if you're not comfortable about Google (possibly) sharing your stuff, then DONT USE THEM.

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:31PM (#27244099)

      You'll end up using Google one way or another. Google Analytics, Adsense, or other advertising. Or the default search bar on a browser. Or a google map someone sends you for directions, or embedded in a real estate page. You can't avoid it, and at some point they will put enough of a picture together, with their Phorm-like data mining.

      Not using Google is not an option, even if you try to avoid it. Disable JavaScript and third-party cookies, never search for anything... you could TRY not using them but won't get you very far.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        If people care about these issues, they will stop using them.

        People who are REALLY concerned about Google data mining will block all Google domains in the HOSTS file and will explain to their friends and relatives that they can't view the Google map precisely because of all of the privacy concerns. They will recommend alternatives like map quest etc. Web-sites that use Adsense will switch to alternatives because enough of their surfers are blocking Google that it's more profitable to use something else. Thi

        • by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:00PM (#27244513)

          This will start to cut into Google's bottom line and they will get the message and alter their practices.

          The problem isn't googles =practices-. The problem is googles -size-.

          I really couldn't care less if a some reasonable percentage of sites I visit all get ads from the same provider using cookies.

          I really couldn't care less if a webmail provider could potentially data mine my webmail to serve me ads on the webmail site.

          I really couldn't care less if a bunch of sites i visit use the same analytics system.

          It bothers me greatly however, that virtually all the sites I visit get ads from the same provider, that also is datamining webmail, and also has a huge piece of the analytics pie. Oh and they want my documents, maps, pictures of my house, and phone call logs too.

          Individually each piece is relatively worthless. Its the difference between [seeing what someone at the mall is looking at], and [seeing what someone at the mall is looking at, seeing where they went next, seeing what kind of car they drive, seeing where they live, overhearing their conversations, seeing them at work...] In both cases you are just 'seeing' what people do in public, which isn't a privacy breach... but systematically following people around isn't merely 'seeing them in public'. Its stalking. Its surveillance.

          The only regulation that needs to be applied is a sort of 'anti stalking' legislation. It won't affect small/new companies, because they aren't big enough to see enough to cross the stalking threshold.

          Meanwhile a company like google would need to be careful, because they effectively are stalking people on the web. Often able to track virtually everything you do on the web.

          Like I said, I don't care if google sees me out on the 'public web'. But I don't like being stalked by them everywhere I go.

          • Aren't there already anti-stalking laws ?

            Perhaps people should file a class action law-suit ? Perhaps people should start petitioning Google and pledging not to use any of their products until they change. Perhaps we should all start using alternatives so that THOSE companies get our money instead of Google. Google's stock prices will go down, they will lose capital and unless they start investing in producing products that satisfy everyone then their size will shrink.

            There is only one way that a company ca

            • by vux984 (928602)

              Aren't there already anti-stalking laws ?

              Yes, but it would be something of a huge stretch to apply them, as written, to google. Nonetheless, I think its the best description of what that much data collection all going to one company amounts to.

    • That argument has been used over and over, and no, it doesn't really excuse a company from behaving badly. By the same token, you can say that hey, it's ok for murderers to kill people, because all you have to do is run away from him/her. Or, hey, it's ok for Enron to cook its books because by god you don't have to work for them. Maybe it's ok for comcast to snoop in to your packets because you can always switch to dsl...

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Actually, google haters and comcast haters are sorta in the same boat. They can't switch to something better.

        The difference is that google is the cream of the crop among alternatives, and it's monopoly is only on comparative quality. That is to say, assuming I would trust ANY company with my private information, google would be the first, above all others. They are comparatively better.

        The feds have a gun pointed at everyone's head, so to speak, when they want information. Google is no exception, and in

  • by TomXP411 (860000) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:09PM (#27243725)

    Wow.

    Love Google or hate Google, I think we'd all agree that Google has done more for consumers on the Internet in the last decade than just about any other single company. Nobody offers Google's breadth of services at any price, let alone free. That doesn't excuse any potential mismanagement of personal information, but I have to wonder how much of this is fueled by market pressures: if you can't compete, { sue | accuse of a crime | sabotage | buy }.

    I'm getting so sick of the way the business world operates. My philosophy has always been "mission first", or your first priority is to serve your customer's needs and forward the mission of the company. You charge money to accomplish this goal, not the other way around. But the business world has lost sight of this goal, and instead chooses to use any dirty trick necessary to force competition out of business. In the end, this kind of atmosphere hurts us all.

    • Wow.

      Love Google or hate Google, I think we'd all agree that Google has done more for consumers on the Internet in the last decade than just about any other single company.

      Count me out. There don't offer anything to me that I would a) pay for or b) trade my privacy for. As of now they don't even offer anything I use on a regular basis that I could not get elsewhere for free.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TomXP411 (860000)
        See, that's the part I don't get. This big, nebulous word "Privacy" doesn't mean much in the real world. I have a gmail account, for example. What specific privacy am I giving up by using gmail as opposed to hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or my own ISP's mail service? All of those services' mailboxes can be read by administrators, and your ISP has a lot more of your information than Google does. Can you give me a specific example of how some specific breach of "privacy" would be used against you? Forget about stup
        • Forget about stupid user mistakes (hosting confidential information on Google Docs, for example). . .

          Would sending any information you considered private through your G-mail account also be a stupid user mistake?

          It sounds like you take it for granted that Google services are not secure. The complaint relates to Google's claim that their services are secure. Is it really a stupid user mistake to take Google at their word? Its only stupid if you are so cynical that you think Google is intentionally misleading you (which may be a wise position).

          If someone sells you a lock, and it turns out that every lock

          • by TomXP411 (860000)

            I guess my point is that there's no such thing as completely secure. ANY public system can be cracked, and I'd go so far as to say that any significantly large system has been cracked at some point.

            That's why we make backups and use encryption. The First Rule is "Always have a backup," and I've been glad of that from time to time. (Just last night, I accidentally deleted a config file for an app I use, and I had to go rooting around in the recycle bin for it. I'm glad I didn't turn it completely off, like I

            • If you are saying that Google's services are not trustworthy, then I really disagree with the contention that their existence is some major boon to online consumers. At best, they are no worse than the rest of the pack. If anything, their ever expanding convenience services are an attractive nuisance.

              It makes sense to go after big targets not just because they are easy to hit, but because hitting them has a large effect. How better to spread the word that putting your information on-line, even with a lar

              • by TomXP411 (860000)

                But what on-line service IS safe any more? Every few weeks, I see news about a breach of a credit card authorization service, military computing system, or some other large system that we'd consider safe.

                Google's value is NOT in their security. It's in the fact that they've brought so many new things to the table. Sure, search existed before Google, but go look at Google's product list sometime. It's huge, and many of those things are not easily available elsewhere (and there are some things that aren't YET

          • by maxume (22995)

            Don't go making this about TSA approved luggage locks.

  • Gears (Score:5, Funny)

    by crumbz (41803) <.moc.liamg>maps ... uj>maps_evomer> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:11PM (#27243755) Homepage

    Epic should stop f*cking around with Google and get back to work on Gears of War 3 already..... Really, what is Phoenix supposed to do next, now that the Locust Horde has been *temporarily* stopped.

  • Am I the only one who saw the words "EPIC Complaint" and got the image in my head about a guy driving a car into the complaints department at some auto manufacturer?

    That would be an epic complaint.

  • m-m-m-m-m-m-monster kill!!!!

    Capitalized or not, UT is the first thing I thought about... and thought "why would they want to do that?"

    or perhaps.. fail?

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup

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