March 30, 2010


By Grant Gross

DG News Service - Eleven U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google's launch of its Buzz social-networking product for breaches of consumer privacy. The representatives -- six Democrats and five Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- noted in their letter that Google's roll-out of Buzz exposed private information of users to Google's Gmail service to outsiders. In one case, a 9-year-old girl accidentally shared her contact list in Gmail with a person who has a "sexually charged" username, the lawmakers said in the letter, sent to the FTC Friday and released Monday.

"Due to the high number of individuals whose online privacy is affected by tools like this -- either directly or indirectly --- we feel that these claims warrant the commission's review of Google's public disclosure of personal information of consumers through Google Buzz," said the letter, organized by Representative John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat.

In the original public version of Buzz, launched in February, the program compiled a list of the Gmail contacts the users most frequently e-mailed or chatted with and automatically started following those people. Those lists were made public, giving strangers access to the contacts of Buzz users.

There were a flurry of complaints from Gmail users, and Google made changes to Buzz within a couple of days. Asked for a response to the letter, a Google spokeswoman said user transparency and control are important to 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," she said, repeating Google's past statements on Buzz. "Our door is always open to discuss additional ways to improve our products and services moving forward. "

The lawmakers asked the FTC to get answers to four questions from Google, including whether the company will revise its Gmail privacy policy to obtain consent from consumers for sharing their information. The lawmakers also want to know if Google was using the personal information collected through Buzz to deliver targeted advertising. The representatives also questioned how Google's planned acquisition of mobile advertising vendor AdMob will affect consumer privacy. In mid-March, outgoing FTC member Pamela Jones Harbour ripped into Google for its handling of Buzz, calling the product's launch "irresponsible conduct."

In February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC, saying that Google Buzz engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that violated Google's privacy policy and federal wiretap laws.

March 26, 2010


A top Google executive called for new rules to crack down on governments that filter the Internet, saying the practice was hindering international trade. Alan Davidson, director of United States public policy for Google, told a joint Congressional panel that the United States and other democracies should draft trade agreements that incorporate pledges to keep Web sites uncensored.

Read the article: (Source: The New York Times)


A French man has been arrested for hacking into the Twitter account of President Barack Obama, French police said. The 25-year-old man, who lives in central France, also stole information online about other celebrities, including Britney Spears, stealing passwords for email accounts and publishing personal information on the Web.

Read the article: (Source: Reuters)

March 12, 2010


A global Internet oversight agency is reopening discussions about whether to create a “.xxx” domain name as an online red-light district where porn sites can set up shop away from the wandering eyes of children and teenagers. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the allocation of Internet addresses globally, may revive ICM Registry’s bid yet again as ICANN meets this week in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Read the article: (Source: USA Today)

March 11, 2010


Pedestrians walk past Google China headquarters in Beijing January 26, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is studying whether it can legally challenge Chinese Internet restrictions that hurt Google and other U.S. companies operating in China, but direct talks with Beijing might yield faster results, the top U.S. trade official said on Tuesday.

At the same time, U.S. trade officials are "trying to make our own determination whether we believe in fact this is not WTO compliant and if the best resolution is to go forward and file an appeal," Kirk said. "We are still dialoguing not just with Google, but with other Internet providers, to make sure we fully understand what is happening in China," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in remarks at the National Press Club.

A U.S. free speech group known as the First Amendment Coalition had been urging such a case for years before Google threatened to leave China in January due to hacking incidents and Web restrictions. A case challenging censorship practices that affect Google and other Internet providers who operate in China would be the first of its kind at the WTO.

U.S. companies cannot wait that long for a solution in the current economic environment, although the United States will not hesitate to go to the WTO when that is the only solution it has left, Kirk said.

Kirk said trying to resolve the issue through bilateral forums such as the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) was "much more preferable than the uncertain path of what can be a two-, three-, four-year legal battle in the WTO." Kirk noted Google and China have been in "very intense negotiations" since the company's threat to leave.

The government procurement policy is intended to spur Chinese companies to be more innovative, but the United States argues it is essentially a trade barrier that does not reflect how products are developed in the global economy. On another matter, Kirk said the United States also hoped to persuade China to change "indigenous innovation" rules favoring companies that develop the intellectual property for new products in China.

"This was one of the prime topics of concern" in preparatory talks with the Chinese for two upcoming high-level bilateral forums, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue this spring and the JCCT next fall, Kirk said.

"Our objective is just to get the government's thumb off the scale," Kirk said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Xavier Briand)

March 9, 2010


By Abu Bakar Munir

On 6 January 2010, under the title, "E.U Data Retention Directive: Would It Survive?, I mentioned about the Germany's biggest-ever class action challenging the Germany's law implementing the E.U Data Retention Directive. Germany's Constitutional Court, on 2 March 2010, has made its decision that the law which requires telecommunication and Internet providers to retain personal information for six months is unconstitutional. Storing or retaining the information has been regarded as "grave intrusion' to personal privacy rights and must be revised.

The Court held that section 113 of the Telecommunications Act violates the privacy of German citizens and that the lacks the controls to ensure the data is secured and properly utilized. The Court also ruled that all data stored until now must be immediately deleted and no more data may be held until the national law is revised to conform with the country's basic law.

Justice Minister Sabine Leuthesser-Schnarrenberger, one of the plaintiffs as private citizen, welcomed the decision. The Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, however, expressed disappointment with the decision of the Court and said that the government would look to draw up new law quickly. Civil rights activists who had fiercely opposed the law welcomed the ruling. Germany's federal data protection watchdog said, "The government must not only refrain from collecting data, it must also protect citizens from the excessive gathering of information and building of profiles by the private sector."

The ruling hasn't scrapped the law altogether, but has effectively suspended it until massive amendments limiting its scope have been implemented. Many plaintiffs had hope the Court would rule that storing data per se was unconstitutional and scrap the law altogether.

German NGO Working Group on Data Retention demands the resignation of the responsible Minister of Justice, social democrat Brigitte Zypries who negotiated the data retention rules.