Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Lawsuit says search companies abuse consumers

Posted by Richard Koman - November 2, 2006

When it comes to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo collecting, datamining and exploiting user personal communications and identifying data, enough is enough, two consumer groups said in a lawsuit filed yesterday, The Washington Post reports.

The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group asked the FTC to investigate the companies' online advertising practices, which they called "deceptive and unfair to millions of users."

"Our online travels are increasingly becoming part of vast databases that comprise the source material for sophisticated analytical engines designed solely to make us more susceptible to online marketing," the complaint said.

The complaint (PDF) singles out a Microsoft service that targets advertising by combining user trails on MSN with such individual details as geographic location, sex, age group, lifestyle and time of day. The suit urges the FTC to halt advertising practices that "abuse consumers."

Soothing words from Microsoft:

"Consumer trust is essential to the success of online business and helping protect consumers' privacy is a top priority for Microsoft in our development and implementation of online services."

And Google:

Google recognizes "that privacy is important" and that as it develops its advertising programs, it comes back "every time to the idea that the trust of the user is paramount."

Somewhat more measured words from Yahoo:

Yahoo has "a longstanding commitment to providing users with clear notice and choice" on the way their data is used.

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