Google, let users opt in on privacy setting
January 11, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
- Google+ users can now e-mail people without knowing their e-mail address
- Marc Rotenberg: The consequences for users and for the Internet are troubling
- He says Google should let users opt in rather than opt out of new privacy setting
- Rotenberg: If government officials do not intervene, things could get much worse
Editor's note: Marc Rotenberg is president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center in Washington. He teaches law at Georgetown University.
(CNN) -- Back in 2010, Google launched a short-lived social network service called "Buzz." Instead of simply promoting Buzz and urging users to sign up for it, or opt in, Google chose instead to sign up Gmail users as Buzz users. If users weren't happy, they could always opt out.
It was a mess. Private e-mail addresses became publicly available as social network contacts. Users rebelled. The Federal Trade Commission investigated, Google backed off, and eventually the company settled with the FTC and agreed not to rope users into new services that they haven't signed up for.
Now Google is back at it.
This week the company announced that it was tying the inboxes of Gmail users to Google+ users. By using Gmail addresses to autocomplete messages from Google+ users, Google is basically giving strangers who may not know your e-mail address a way to connect with you through Gmail. This move may bolster short-term value for Google but reduces privacy for Gmail users.
The consequences for users and for the Internet are troubling. From a privacy perspective, Google's action makes it more likely that personal information of users will become more widely available. And as the Internet's most dominant company, Google is exploiting its control over key Internet services to beat back competition and expand its market reach. Those who favor a free, open and democratic Internet should take note.
Google is also unfairly expecting Gmail users to opt out of a service they never signed up for to maintain their current expectations of privacy.
It's fine if some users like the new feature. They should be free to opt in. But those who value privacy should not be expected to check their privacy settings every time a company alters its business model.
With the latest change to Gmail, Google is testing the resolve of regulators to protect privacy. If government officials do not intervene, things could get much worse.
At the moment, Google is simply using Gmail account addresses to auto-complete e-mail addresses for Google+. But of course Google is sitting on the biggest search database in the world and could also use that data it has collected from users to auto-complete e-mail addresses and much more.
In 2010, Google was right to back off the plan for Buzz and the Federal Trade Commission was right to pursue an investigation and help ensure that similar fiascos do not occur. But now that Google is once again commingling data in e-mail accounts and social network accounts, the Federal Trade Commission will need to intervene. Opting out is not the solution.
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marc Rotenberg.
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations