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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 31, 2012 at 9:21 AM

D10: FTC boss on bad privacy policies, Google antitrust

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. _ In its review of overly complex privacy policies, the Federal Trade Commission found one on a mobile device that took 102 clicks to get through, according to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The example was used by Leibowitz to advocate for simpler privacy policies. The policies of companies handling users’ personal information need to be simplified to the point they resemble the nutrition labels on the side of cereal boxes, he said.

“Privacy policies have to get better, they have to get simpler,” he said during an interview at the All Things D conference.

The FTC has begun an antitrust review of Google’s search business and hired an outside expert to assist the process.

Conference co-host Walt Mossberg pressed Leibowitz on what prompted the agency to begin the review at this point.

Leibowitz declined to provide specifics about what initiated the review.

“Without going too far down this road there are certainly allegations – the search results on Google have changed or evolved over the years – that they may be anti-competitive,” he said.

A decision on whether to proceed will come “in the not too distant future,” he said.

Mossberg asked if the agency is “trying to figure out if the evidence is there.”

“We’re trying to figure out if the evidence is there and what the theories are,” Leibowitz said.

Mossberg said the hiring of outside counsel suggests the agency has already found evidence of anticompetitive practices, but Leibowitz wouldn’t confirm this.

“It just means that we have very competent counsel who can go toe to toe with their competent counsel,” he said.

The hiring “ensures we have a really terrific litigator should we need one” and provides outside perspective, he said.

Leibowitz said the FTC is also concerned about the way companies are suing each other over standard, essential patents. In particular, the agency is concerned about fights over technology standards going beyond the pursuit of damages and leading to injunctions blocking the shipment of products.

The FTC may ask the International Trade Commission to address the situation.

“We are considering filing our views with them,” he said. “I think we’re very troubled by the notion.”

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