The FTC, Google and the Buzz

March 30, 2011

I read “Google Will Face Privacy Audits For The Next 20 Long Years.” The Federal Trade Commission has under its umbrella the mechanism to trigger privacy audits of Google’s practices for the next 20 years. Okay. Two decades. The matter fired off the launch pad in February 2010 and, if the story is spot on, landed with a ruling in March 2011. Here’s the passage that caught my attention:

As the FTC put it, “Although Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective.”

I think this means that Google’s judgment was found lacking. The notion of just doing something and apologizing if that something goes wrong works in some sectors. The method did not seem to work in this particular situation, however.

I noted this passage in the article:

Google has formally apologized for the whole mess, saying “The launch of Google Buzz. fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control—letting our users and Google down.”

Yep. Apologies. More about those at the Google blog. Here’s the passage of Google speak I found fascinating:

User trust really matters to Google.

For sure. No, really. You know. Really. Absolutely.

I am not sure I have an opinion about this type of “decision”. What strikes me is that if a company cannot do exactly what it wants, that company may be hampered to some degree. On the other hand, a government agency which requires a year to make a decision seems to be operating at an interesting level of efficiency.

What about the users? Well, does either of the parties to this legal matter think about the user? My hunch is that Google wants to get back to the business of selling ads. The FTC wants to move on to weightier matter. The user will continue with behaviors that fascinate economists and social scientists.

In a larger frame, other players move forward creating value. Web indexing, ads, and US government intervention may ultimately have minimal impact at a 12 month remove. Would faster, more stringent action made a more significant difference? Probably but not now.

Maybe Google and the FTC will take Britney Spears’s advice:

“My mum said that when you have a bad day, eat ice-cream. That’s the best advice,”

A modern day Li Kui for sure. For sure. No, really.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2011

Freebie unlike some of life’s activities


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