The United States Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday ordered nine data brokerage firms to provide the agency with information on how they collect and use consumer data. The FTC notes that these companies “collect personal information about consumers from a variety of public and non-public sources and resell the information to other companies,” and is now seeking answers. It wants to know how these companies use, maintain and disseminate the information they gather about consumers, and to the extent of which consumers are allowed to access and correct their information or opt out of having their personal information sold. More →
Google is about to forfeit some of its allowance after getting caught with its hands in Safari’s cookie jar. The Wall Street Journal reports that Google and the Federal Trade Commission are close to finalizing a settlement where Google will pay $22.5 million for bypassing the security settings on Apple’s Safari browser to plant unwanted third-party tracking cookies. More →
The United States Federal Trade Commission will fine Google for its breach of Apple’s Safari web browser security, Bloomberg reported on Friday. The Internet giant is currently negotiating with the Commission over an acceptable fine, which could amount to tens of millions of dollars. The fine would be the first time the FTC has ever punished a company for violating Internet privacy safeguards. Google in February was found to be bypassing the privacy settings of millions of unknowing Safari users by using a special code to install cookies on a user’s computer, even when such actions were supposed to be blocked by the browser. More →
Korean regulators on Thursday fined domestic mobile phone manufacturers and carriers 45.3 billion won (roughly $40.2 million) for price-fixing and consumer fraud. According to the Fair Trade Commission, the companies secretly agreed to inflate the prices of cell phones while advertising offers with considerable incentives. The companies’ actions apparently tricked consumers into thinking they were buying a new phone for a bargain. “Companies took advantage of the complicated price setting practice in the mobile telecommunications sector to trick consumers,” an FTC official said. The Korea Times reported that Samsung, LG, Pantech, SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus have all been find for their role in the scheme. In addition to the fine, the companies have been ordered to release information concerning the incentives they offered consumers, and they have been banned from offering such incentives in the future. SK Telecom was given the largest fine of 20.2 billion won, followed by Samsung with 14.2 billion won and KT at 5.1 billion won. More →
Apple has been subpoenaed by the United Stated Federal Trade Commission as part of an antitrust investigation of Google, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. The FTC is reportedly interested in an agreement with Apple that made Google the default search engine on Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. ”As mobile search gets more widespread, the default setting becomes more significant,” antitrust lawyer Allen Grunes told Bloomberg. The FTC has been looking into Google’s business practices — specifically, its search business — for almost a year.
Members from the notorious hacktivist collective “Anonymous Operations” have reportedly claimed responsibility for hacking two more government websites following the takedown of the Central Intelligence Agency’s website last week. The Associated Press on Friday reported that Anonymous had breached the United States Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection business center website as well as a National Consumer Protection Week website. Both sites were temporarily replaced by a “violent German-language video” focused on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. ACTA, which has been signed by a number of countries including the U.S. and Canada, aims to put forth international legal guidelines for fighting piracy. Neither affected agency has confirmed the attacks, but both the FTC business center website and the National Consumer Protection Week website were offline at the time of this writing. More →
Democratic Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts released a draft of his cell phone privacy bill on Monday. The Mobile Device Privacy Act is designed to protect consumers from tracking software such as Carrier IQ, which caused an uproar late last year when it was discovered to be secretly monitoring 150 million smartphone users. The bill would require companies to disclose the use of such tracking software and clarify exactly what information the software collects. Customers would have to consent to any data collected or transmitted, and third parties would have to file applications with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the data is being transmitted securely. “Consumers have the right to know and to say ‘no’ to the presence of software on their mobile devices that can collect and transmit their personal and sensitive information,” said Markey when speaking to The Hill. Markey serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is the co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. More →
Officials in the European Union will decide by the end of March whether or not to formally investigate Google. An informal investigation into Google’s practices has been ongoing since November 2010. “I will receive comments from the case team towards the end of the first quarter,” European Union competition commissioner Joaguin Alumnia told Reuters. “I do not expect anything sooner. Let us see.” 10 different firms have filed anti-competition complaints against Google with the European Commission. The United States Federal Trade Commission announced in June that it was also reviewing Google’s business practices related to search and online advertising. Watchdog groups such as Fairsearch.org have accused Google of engaging “in anti-competitive behavior… that harms consumers by restricting the ability of other companies to compete to put the best products and services in front of Internet users, who should be allowed to pick winners and losers online not Google.” Google, however, has said that its business practices will stand up to ongoing investigations. “These are the principles that guide us, and we know they’ll stand up to scrutiny,” Google Fellow Amit Singhal said in June. More →
Federal investigators have launched a probe in order to examine Carrier IQ’s smartphone software, which tracks a range of activity and sends certain data to wireless carriers without users’ knowledge. Carrier IQ executives met with officials from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commuission on Tuesday, The Washington Post reports. “We are complying with all investigations at this time as we have nothing to hide,” said Carrier IQ representative Mira Woods. “We have been completely transparent through this process.” Read on for more. More →
Facebook settled a privacy lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission on Friday and agreed to submit independent audits for the next 20 years. The FTC had accused the social network of being deceptive in its privacy practices, Reuters explained. ”Facebook’s innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. Facebook will create two positions dedicated to privacy, including a chief privacy officer. In addition, Reuters said the social network must be transparent about what it does with personal user data in the future and it must receive user permission before changing how it shares private user data. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he “is committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and seven other privacy groups have contacted the U.S. Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate Facebook for “secretly tracking users after they logged off of Facebook’s webpage.” A 34-page complaint filed by EPIC asks for an injunction, investigation and “other relief” from the social network. EPIC said Facebook is home to more than 60 billion photographs and alleges it developed its “tag suggestions” feature to collect data on Facebook users “without knowledge of consent in order to develop facial recognition technology.” The complaint specifically states:
Given these extraordinary circumstances, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, urge the Commission to investigate Facebook, determine the extent of the harm to consumer privacy and safety, require Facebook to cease collection and use of users’ biometric data without their affirmative opt-in consent, require Facebook to give users meaningful control over their personal information, establish appropriate security safeguards, limit the disclosure of user information to third parties, and seek appropriate injunctive and compensatory relief.
EPIC’s letter also details how the social network violates its own terms of service and shows how hard it is for a user who has been tagged in a photo to delete the original image which, in most cases, is owned by somebody else. EPIC wants Facebook to create a detailed privacy program and to immediately suspend its face-tagging feature. More →
Expedia, Nextag and Yelp are in Washington, D.C. to participate in a Senate judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing about whether or not Google has acted anti-competitively in the market. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman is one of the executives who has been asked to provide testimony during the hearing and he has posted his written testimony on Yelp’s website. “Google is no longer in the business of sending people to the best sources of information on the web,” Stoppelman said. “It now hopes to be a destination site itself for one vertical market after another, including news, shopping, travel and now, local business reviews. It would be one thing if these efforts were conducted on a level playing field, but the reality is they are not.” Read on for more. More →