Web giants Facebook and Google have defended their social networking services after it was reported that a senior US regulator said she was concerned about the lack of protection consumer data is given in the cloud.
Pamela Jones Harbour, one of five Federal Trade Commission (FTC) commissioners, said internet firms need to improve the encryption technology they use to protect the data held by online applications, according to widespread reports yesterday.
Harbour made the point that this was her personal opinion rather than the official view of the FTC.
Harbour made her remarks at an FTC roundtable discussion held to explore the privacy challenges posed by technology including social networking, cloud computing and behavioural advertising.
The FTC said the goal of the roundtable was to determine how best to protect consumer privacy while supporting beneficial uses of the information and technological innovation.
Harbour was also critical of how web giants, such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google, appear to be pushing the boundaries when it comes to protecting consumer privacy.
She referred to how it has now become common practice for web firms to launch offerings that may infringe on their users’ privacy and wait to see if the product sparks a negative reaction. If it does, the firms are often seen to withdraw the offering and alter their strategy, she said. Harbour argued this kind of approach should be penalised by regulatory bodies.
Harbour also said it is wrong for web sites to make significant changes to the nature of their services without the consent of their users. For example, when Google launched Buzz, Gmail users were integrated into a social network without their consent.
The launch of Buzz was also used as an example of a firm revisiting its privacy settings after receiving an avalanche of complaints.
Buzz allows Gmail users to share real-time updates in a similar way to Twitter but users complained that Google had already selected the Gmail accounts that users would follow based on their most frequent contacts, and made all this information public.
Google said it could not respond to the specific complaints Harbour raised yesterday relating to how it launches its products. A spokesman used the same defense that Google used at the time Buzz received criticism.
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