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Google Accused of Sharing Users’ Private Info

LAWYERS.COM

After all of the trouble Google has encountered in its attempts to monetize its users’ information, you would think the company had learned its lesson. Think again – consumer groups are angry that Google has reportedly been improperly sharing app purchasers’ info with third-party developers.

 

‘Play’ For Keeps

Third-party developers of applications made to run on Android phones and tablets sell their products through Google’s app store, Google Play. Google stores users’ purchasing information through its Wallet program, allowing users to immediately buy and download apps to their devices.

Without their permission, Google has been “giving personal and closely held information from tens (if not hundreds) of millions of Android users to independent and unrestrained application developers,” according to Consumer Watchdog.

That information includes app purchasers’ names, physical addresses, and email addresses. “Google Play apps deal with sensitive personal subjects, including health conditions and sexual activity,” says the group.

Google did not respond to a request for a comment about the allegations.

Google’s disclosure of personal user information to app developers allows them to identify people who download apps for sensitive subjects such as Depression App Counselor, Pregnancy+, Heart Disease, and Utoopi, a now extinct app for sex workers.

 

Violations+ 

That move violates not only the company’s own privacy policy but also California state law, as well as Google’s 2011 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the company collected and imported users’ personal info into its Buzz program without their consent, says Consumer Watchdog.

John Simpson

“Under the terms of the Buzz Consent order, Google agreed not to share data in ways not described in its privacy policy,” John Simpson, privacy project director with Consumer Watchdog, tells Lawyers.com.

“We believe that in addition to violating the Buzz agreement, Google is also violations Section V of the FTC Act,” Simpson adds. “It is committing an unfair and deceptive act by not explaining  how it is sharing data with apps developers in its privacy policy.”

 

Consumer Watchdog has alerted the FTC to the problem and is asking the commission to file suit yet again and hit Google with billions of dollars in fines. 

 

Minding Your Privacy

The problem with allowing third-party app developers access to personal information such as email addresses is that they could then use it for their own marketing purposes – and then some.

“Third party-programmers have no need for this information,” explains Simpson. “Users have no reasonable expectation that it is being shared. If the apps developers get the data, which can be quite sensitive, there is nothing to prevent them from sharing it even further.”

Google+ users can do three things to better protect their privacy while this latest debacle gets sorted out:

  • Set your browser to block third-party cookies.
  • Clear your cookies when the browser closes.
  • Ask your congressional representatives to back “Do-Not-Track” legislation.

 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia just introduced such a bill that would, among other things, “create a universal legal obligation for all online companies to honor consumer choice when consumers do not want anyone to collect information about their online activities.”