Media Money with Julia Boorstin

Is Twitter’s Problem with Google+ Search Results a Privacy Issue?


Google and Twitter’s battle over Google’s display of Google+ over Twitter results continues to drag out.

And now the FTC is involved.

The commission is reportedly evaluating the feature as part of its ongoing anti-trust investigation, and now a complaint by EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has prompted a separate investigation.

As a matter of policy, the enforcement arm of the FTC is looking into whether Google’s policy for ranking Google+ in search results violates a settlement the FTC and Google struck last year about Google Buzz.

EPIC weighs in on the question of whether Google is unfairly promoting Google+ — an issue that Twitter has been up in arms about all week. EPIC writes: “Google’s changes implicate concerns over whether the company prioritizes its own content when returning search results.”

But EPIC is a privacy organization, and it raises questions about the implementation of the FTC’s consent order on privacy issues. EPIC takes issue with the fact that Google’s new ‘personalized’ search results include personal information, including photos, Google+ posts, and contact information. (Click hereto read the full letter).

In a blog post EPIC explains: “Although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google’s changes make the personal data of users more accessible. Users can opt out of seeing personalized search results, but cannot opt out of having their information found through Google search.”

Google responded to the EPIC letter with a statement that addresses the privacy concerns: “Search plus Your World doesn’t change who has access to content, it simply helps people rediscover information they already have access to. We’ve taken special care with our new features to provide robust security protections, transparency and control for our users.”

So EPIC is taking issue with how personal information is more conveniently accessible — though Google isn’t changing who has access to personal information. Other privacy groups, like the Center for Democracy and Technology’s agree with Google. Director of the CDT’s Consumer Privacy Project Justin Brookman said “They’re not sharing any more information about you than is available otherwise.”

We’ll see what the FTC says, and whether the European Commission, which is investigating anti-trust concerns agree with EPIC.

Questions?  Comments?