Lawmakers call for FTC to investigate Google Buzz over privacy

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have called for an FTC investigation into Google over its Buzz social networking service.

The eleven lawmakers claim that Buzz is exposing private user information to outsiders. In a letter to Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, they cited the case of a nine-year-old girl whose Gmail contact list was accidentally shared with a user with a ‘sexually-charged’ name.

“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 their letter.

Concerns about privacy emerged soon after the launch, and Google quickly made changes to try to accommodate them.

But, says the letter: “Upon realizing the privacy risks associated with this service, many users understandably tried to deactivate their accounts or change their privacy settings. For many, this proved to be incredibly difficult.”

And questions remain, according to the committee members.

They want Google to obtain consent from users before sharing their information. They also want to know how many users have dropped out of Buzz since the launch.

Other questions are whether Google was using the information to deliver targeted advertising, and whether the company’s acquisition of mobile ad firm AdMob will affect consumer privacy.