House Judiciary Chairman seeks cooperation from Google, Facebook in privacy inquiries

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lawmaker seeks cooperation from Google, Facebook

WASHINGTON — The head of the House Judiciary Committee is asking Google Inc. and Facebook to cooperate with any government inquiries into privacy practices at both companies.

Michigan Democrat John Conyers sent letters to Google and Facebook on Friday amid mounting concern in Congress that the two online companies are not adequately protecting personal privacy on the Internet.

Facebook has come under fire for sharing user information with a handful of other online services as part of its new “instant personalization” program, which is intended to let Facebook members share their interests in everything from music to restaurants with others in their social network. The program draws information from a member’s profile to customize several other sites, including the music service Pandora.

Facebook simplified its privacy controls this week in response to the backlash among users. As part of the changes, it added a tool to make it easier for members to turn off the instant personalization service.

Conyers asked Facebook on Friday to provide details about its sharing of member information with third parties and about its privacy policies. Several privacy watchdog groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have already filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has been reviewing the privacy policies of Facebook and other social networks.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company looks forward to meeting with Conyers’ staff to explain its privacy practices and policies.

Conyers stopped short of saying the Judiciary Committee will begin its own investigations into Facebook and Google.

Google recently admitted that it had sucked up fragments of e-mails, Web surfing behavior and other online activities over public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries while it was photographing neighborhoods for its “Street View” mapping feature. The company said it discovered the problem following an inquiry by German regulators.

Conyers is asking Google to retain the data collected by its Street View cars along with related records until any federal and state inquiries are complete. At least two House members, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., have already asked the FTC to look into the matter and are seeking more information from Google about the incident.

Google already has hired a security consulting firm, iSEC partners, to make an encrypted copy of all the U.S. data collected by Street View to ensure the information is preserved, according to records in a federal lawsuit filed against the company in Portland, Ore. The judge overseeing that case has ordered Google to retain the data.

The FTC has yet to say whether it is investigating Google.

will not be displayed