The Wall Street Journal reports on comments by outgoing Federal Trade Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour at Wednesday’s FTC Privacy Roundtable in Washington, D.C. She focused on the privacy problems that accompanied the launch of Google Buzz, the social-networking service. She also raised questions about cloud computing services.
“Protecting consumer privacy is of utmost importance,” Ms. Harbour said during a Federal Trade Commission roundtable discussion about privacy Wednesday, speaking via videoconference from Barcelona, Spain. “Unfortunately, many of the companies that consumers look to as leaders — and that we expect to be leaders — still have not taken this message entirely to heart.” […]
The launch of Google Buzz was “irresponsible conduct” by a company considered “one of the greatest technology leaders of our time,” Ms. Harbour said, in making her remarks, which she said are her own and not the views of the FTC. Ms. Harbour is leaving the FTC on April 6. […]
A Google spokesman said in a statement that user transparency and control are “top of mind” for the company. “When we realized that we’d unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns,” he said. “Our door is open to additional feedback and we’re continuing to make more improvements based on that feedback.”
Technology companies continue to launch new products under a problematic model: throwing the idea against the wall, seeing if it sticks, then pulling it back and addressing privacy concerns if needed, Ms. Harbour said. “Deeds speak louder than words, and this is turning into a dangerous game of ‘copycat’ behavior,” she said. “Unlike a lot of tech products, consumer privacy cannot be run in beta.”
Ms. Harbour also addressed the issue of data-security vulnerabilities, especially through services offered via “cloud computing,” a term for online applications. She said that while encryption technology is built into Web browsers, it often applies only to login information, such as user names and passwords. Other data are sent unencrypted. She said that the issue affects several email and social networking services. […]
Privacy is a fundamental right that consumers still care about and have expectations for, Ms. Harbour said. Those norms do not change as technology evolves, and the stakes are growing as more information, such as genomic and public-health records, is made available, she said.