Markey, Barton, Stearns Call on FTC to Investigate Google's Privacy Policy

Google is in the hot seat in Washington yet again after the Wall Street Journal reported that it, along with other online ad companies, had bypassed privacy settings on Safari browsers to track users.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucus, and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, called on the FTC to investigate what they called the "evasion of privacy" allegation.

In the letter, they pointed to Google's announcement of changes to its own privacy policies that had drawn the legislators' attention, and its FTC settlement last year of allegations its Google Buzz violated "privacy promises" to consumers.

They wanted to know whether Google has violated terms of that settlement, a question they also asked about the planned privacy policy change, scheduled to go into effect next month.

Markey and Barton support giving online users an "easy button" for preventing sharing and tracking of online information by advertisers and others.

Separately, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), another leading voice for online privacy protections, promised to investigate the Google story. If true, he said, "This practice may have violated the company's own stated privacy practices.  I fully intend to look into this matter and determine the extent to which this practice was used by Google and other third parties to circumvent consumer choice."

"We are taking immediate steps to address concerns, and we are happy to answer any questions regulators and others may have," Google said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.