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WSJ Confirms FTC-Google Privacy Settlement Flaw

The Wall Street Journal essentially confirmed the huge flaw in the FTC-Google privacy settlement that I recently spotlighted; see Julia Angwin's excellent privacy article: "Apple, Google Collect User Data."

The WSJ investigation confirmed the fact that Google (and Apple too) are tracking their mobile device users' movements and locations based on "unique device identifiers" without users' knowledge or authorization.

The confirmation of this fact, confirms my point that the FTC-Google privacy settlement has a huge loophole in that it does not include "unique device identifiers" to be private information, a ridiculous distinction because a "unique device identifier" is obviously as private as a name or IP address, which the FTC already considers "covered information." FYI: the proposed bipartisan Kerry-McCain privacy legislation considers "unique device identifiers" to be private information.

If the FTC is truly serious about enforcing its fair representation laws and sanctioning deceptive and unfair privacy practices when they find them, it should modify its draft privacy settlement with Google to include "unique device identifiers," as covered private information, in the final settlement with Google that soon will be codified by the court.

If the FTC does not plug this egregious privacy loophole, it basically gives Google carte blanche to track mobile users, without users' authorization and without any real risk of enforcement from the FTC.

The FTC's past lax enforcement in the area of Google wireless privacy -- first in quickly closing their WiSpy investigation with no sanction, and second in approving the Google-AdMob merger (that created the demand and impetus for omni-tracking of unique wireless device identifiers), despite having "serious antitrust concerns," -- makes it more important for the FTC to ensure that its Google privacy settlement actually does what they claim it does.