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FTC called to address location targeting related to Google?s AdMob

The Center for Digital Democracy is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to extend the reach of privacy conditions imposed on Google as the result of a recent settlement to include the company?s mobile advertising network AdMob.

In March, Google reached an agreement with the FTC over the launch of Google Buzz and the way users were informed about the new social network?s privacy policies. The settlement requires Google to refrain from future privacy misrepresentation, implement a comprehensive privacy program and have privacy oversight for the next 20 years.

?We specifically raised Google?s AdMob holdings [in the comments] to ensure that the commission address consumer privacy issues related to geo-location targeting,? said Jeff Chester, executive director at the non-profit Center for Digital Democracy, Washington.

?We want the FTC to set a new higher standard for Google?s mobile marketing that could become the de facto model for mobile advertising,? he said.

Yesterday was the deadline for comments on the proposed agreement. The FTC will now vote to finalize the agreement.

The CDD wants to make it clear that the privacy protections laid out in the settlement extend to all of Google?s services so that the privacy of consumers using any of the company?s products and services is protected.

Privacy concern grows
At issue in the Google Buzz case was users being automatically opted in and users? email contacts become public. 

As part of the FTC settlement, Google, Mountain View, CA, is required to obtain consent from individuals before sharing their information with third parties and is barred from misrepresenting the confidentiality of individuals? information. 

If the FTC were to follow this advice, it would mean that Google would be required to adopt opt-in privacy policies for all of its services and face new requirements on disclosure.

"A month ago we reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to close its investigation into the February 2010 launch of Google Buzz," said company spokesperson Chris Gaither. 

"The public comment period is part of the FTC approval process, and the FTC responds to comments it receives," he said. "We look forward to the FTC finalizing the agreement."

The FTC, according to the CDD, should examine each certified partner that Google permits to  operate on its network and order these companies to provide consumers with accurate information and control over what data is collected and how it is used.

The CDD also wants the new FTC privacy safeguards to be applied to the dozens of data-mining companies that engage in real-time ad exchange sales, social media, behavioral targeting and retargeting.

In recent weeks, Google has also come under increasing pressure over its privacy policies, including how it collects geo-location data on mobile phones.

Several reports have pointed to the extent of both Google and Apple?s mobile data collection.

The reports showed that Android phones, iPads and iPhones are keeping precise track of users? whereabouts while Apple devices are also storing location-based data about customers for a significant period of time and not storing it as securely as many would like.

Legislators urged to act
Because concrete examples were provided in the reports, advocates for privacy honed in on them to point out what can happen in the absence of stricter privacy controls.

Last week, two Android phone users filed a class-action suit that claims Android phone users were unaware that Google was tracking their locations and did not knowingly consent to the tracking.

The location data collected by mobile companies help these firms deliver geo-targeted search results.

However, privacy advocates and consumers are worried what will happen if the data falls into the wrong hands.

As consumers become more aware of mobile firms? data-collection practices, consumers could start looking more closely at their mobile devices and the services they sign up for.

The CDD?s comments today reflect the growing interest on the part of privacy advocates and consumer to insure legislators do not overlook mobile data-collection as they address some of the broader privacy issues.

?Mobile is now on the political frontlines here in Washington,? Mr. Chester said. ?You are potentially going to see the introduction of bipartisan legislation to regulate how cell phones collect and use data.?

Final Take
Intro to Google Buzz