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Google agrees to biennial privacy reviews

Google has publicly apologised for the mistakes it made during the launch of its Twitter-like social networking tool Buzz, and claims that it's learned its lesson - and will be undergoing independent privacy reviews to keep it on the straight and narrow.

Buzz, the company's failed attempt at killing Twitter, launched to critical dismay: users with Gmail accounts were opted in to the service without their knowledge, and information on people in their address book was leaked to third parties without their express consent.

It was a dark time for Google, and led to a significant amount of interest from the likes of the US Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission, who wanted to know how Google could get things so badly wrong - and what the company is planning to do to keep its users' data private in the future.

"Today, we’ve reached an agreement with the FTC to address their concerns," Google's director of privacy Alma Whitten announced today. "We’ll receive an independent review of our privacy procedures once every two years, and we’ll ask users to give us affirmative consent before we change how we share their personal information.

"We’d like to apologize again for the mistakes we made with Buzz. While today’s announcement thankfully put[s] this incident behind us, we are 100 per cent focused on ensuring that our new privacy procedures effectively protect the interests of all our users going forward," Whitten concluded.

There's no denying that Google's services are useful - but the sheer breadth of its products gives it incredible access into the darkest nooks and crannies of a person's life. Google Calendar tells the company where you'll be, Google Mail who you're talking to, and Google Maps how you'll get there. StreetView might even snap you on the way. With Android and Latitude the company even knows where you are at any given moment - or, at least - where you left your smartphone.

While it remains to be seen how in-depth these 'independent reviews' are - and how much of the report Google chooses to make public - it's certainly a step in the right direction for a company which has had a badly tarnished privacy image in recent years.