The Wall Street Journal has a report about a former Federal Trade Commission employee filing a complaint with the agency against Google over its consumer privacy policies.
The complaint was filed September 6 by Christopher Soghoian, who worked until August as a technologist with the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. It calls on the agency to investigate Google and to “compel Google to take proactive steps to protect the privacy of individual users’ search terms.” The complaint alleges Google shares with third parties users’ search queries, including those that contain personal information.
In an emailed statement, Google said its passing of search-query data to third parties “is a standard practice across all search engines” and that “webmasters use this to see what searches bring visitors to their websites.” The statement added, “Google does not pass any personal information about the source of the query to the destination website.” […]
Mr. Soghoian’s complaint centers on the way the Internet handles links that users click on to surf. When a link is clicked, the address where the user came from is transmitted to the linked site via something called a “referrer header.” In the case of search queries, this address includes the entire text of the search, which may contain users’ personal information if, say, they search for their own name. […]
Mr. Soghoian cited in his complaint several instances in which he says Google stopped transmitting search terms to third-party sites via referrer headers, but worked to restore the data after receiving complaints from search-engine optimization consultants. Search-engine optimization, or SEO, involves making sure that websites and advertisers are ranked high in search results.