The internet giant will be subject to an independent review of the privacy controls on its most popular products — including Gmail and Street View — every two years for the next two decades following pressure from U.S. regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating privacy flaws in Google Buzz, a social media service tied to the company’s Gmail service. The regulator, yesterday (30MAR), accused Google of using “deceptive tactics [that] violated its own privacy promises to consumers” when it launched Buzz in February last year.

Google faced a privacy backlash when it launched Buzz because it initially used Gmail users’ private contact lists to build their friends network, then made these lists available to be viewed by the rest of the world. The internet giant quickly changed the settings so that contact lists were private as a default.

The company has now agreed to set up a comprehensive new privacy policy, including asking users for their “affirmative consent” before changing how personal information is shared, the FTC said.

“For users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and difficult to find,” the FTC added in a statement.

The Google director of privacy in product and engineering, Alma Whitten, wrote on the company’s official blog: “The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control — letting our users and Google down.

“While we worked quickly to make improvements, regulators — including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission — unsurprisingly wanted more detail about what went wrong and how we could prevent it from happening again. Today, we’ve reached an agreement with the FTC to address their concerns.” The FTC chairman, Jon Leibowitz, added: “This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honour its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations.”

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011