[JURIST] Several Internet privacy groups filed a joint complaint [PDF text] with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] on Friday concerning the merger of search engine Google [corporate website] with advertising provider DoubleClick [corporate website]. The groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the US Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) [advocacy websites], requested that the FTC block the proposed merger [agreement text; SEC press release] until the agency conducts an investigation. The groups allege the merger allows Google to match users' names and physical addresses with their IP addresses and Internet usage history and habits.
The complaint accuses Google of engaging in unfair trade practices:
Google’s collection of information about its users, through the retention of users’ search terms in connection with their IP address, is performed without the knowledge or consent of Google users. . . . As a result of Google’s failure to detail its data retention policies until four levels down within its website, its users are unaware that their activities are being monitored. Furthermore, Google does not provide any “opt-out” option to its users who do not want Google to store their search terms.
Google’s collection of information about its users without compliance with Fair Information Practices, such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines, is likely to cause 10 substantial injury to consumers, which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition, and therefore is an unfair practice.
The complaint also criticizes Google's data retention policies under which the search giant collects and stores information about hundreds of millions of users' searches, address information, schedules and e-mailed documents. The prolonged data retention could result in the infringement of those users' privacy rights if hackers or even the government gains access to the information, prompting the privacy groups to demand a policy for destroying the data and allowing users to access information stored about them. The groups also urged the FTC to ensure that Google complies with the international privacy standards [text] set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) [official website]. Google has rejected claims that it is engaging in unfair trade practices and says it has no plans to use the information to identify specific users for Internet advertisements. AP has more.