Watchdog Files FTC Complaint on Facebook Privacy Changes

Lora Bentley

What's that old saying -- strike while the iron is hot? That's exactly what EPIC is doing.

 

According to a press release, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to investigate, and if necessary, enjoin Facebook from continuing in its new privacy practices.

 

The social networking powerhouse adjusted its privacy practices just last week, around the same time that the FTC hosted a roundtable discussion regarding online privacy regulation. In fact, though I don't know for certain, I'd be willing to bet an EPIC representative attended the roundtable, just like Anzen consultants and reps from so many other stakeholders did.

 

So why not file the complaint now, when the topic is fresh in the minds of prospective regulators as well as the minds of consumers, whether they're individuals or businesses? Doing so increases the chances that change will be effected.

 

According to EPIC's Web site, the organization's biggest problem with the changes is that Facebook now considers certain user information publicly available without giving users the opportunity to opt out. Specifically:

Facebook now requires mandatory disclosure of certain information. The site automatically makes some user information available to the public, including to third-party developers, without offering users a choice to opt-out. The new Facebook privacy policy states that "certain categories of information...are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings.

 

In the press release, EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg says:

More than 100 million people in the United States subscribe to the Facebook service. The company should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers.

 

The Associated Press reports that Facebook indicated the changes were discussed with regulators before they were implemented.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 18, 2009 4:13 AM Eric Larson Eric Larson  says: in response to Daniel Grimm

I agree with this statement that "Facebook is an entirely voluntary, and may I add "FREE" user application. No one twists anyone's arm to join it, so caveat emptor applies.  If you don't like the privacy protection, then don't join."

And, I'm concerned that when people have already joined with an understanding of the previous privacy policy, then they joined with a different arrangement than what Facebook currently offers.  However, our information is now already there, open to being affected by the new privacy policy.  So, perhaps we ought to rephrase that last sentence in the quote above to 'If you don't like the possible lack of privacy protection that Facebook might decide to change to at some point in the future, then don't join.' 

This, of course, fits well with what User1710723 wrote, that "Even where promises are made to protect privacy, it is an empty promise, as has been well documented over the past several years."  And yet, one would hope that some online social networking organization could build a good enough reputation for enough trust to make online communication as open, free-flowing and therefore as helpful as it possibly could be...

Wariness and caution really do slow things down.  I'm thinking, now, of the book "The Speed of Trust" that some colleagues recommended and I'm about half way through reading.

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Dec 18, 2009 7:47 AM Daniel Grimm Daniel Grimm  says:

Excellent points Liam and 1768949!

While it seems reasonable that we should be able to develop professional business relationships with these "online" businesses, the Truth is that no businesses live up to this expectation.

Standard "Brick & Mortar" businesses, such as Credit Card companies, have proven untrustworthy, or at least unreliable in terms of privacy protection.

No Business is truly worthy of our Trust; therefore, we should be very shrewd in our dealings with them and not reveal any more information about ourselves than we are willing to risk being used in ways we would not approve.

Government cannot, despite its best attempts, genuinely protect our privacy, if these companies are not voluntarily, willing to do so.

Everyone should approach all of these interactions with a healthy sense of prudence.  As a relationship progresses over time, perhaps greater trust can be built, but Facebook has changed its policy more frequently than most change underwear. 

This hardly builds trust.

Name, rank, and serial number...

Reply
Dec 18, 2009 12:30 PM Daniel Grimm Daniel Grimm  says:

Thanks for reporting on these events.  Personally, it leaves me feeling apprehensive.  Facebook is an entirely voluntary, and may I add "FREE" user application.  No one twists anyone's arm to join it, so caveat emptor applies.  If you don't like the privacy protection, then don't join.  Involving the long arm of the government in no way improves privacy protection.  The track record for government agencies in protecting privacy is ludicrously bad.  Even where promises are made to protect privacy, it is an empty promise, as has been well documented over the past several years.  It is far better for everyone to enter into these agreements with wariness and caution and in full knowledge that nothing is "private" on the internet, than to provide false hope that one's privacy is protected.

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Dec 18, 2009 12:51 PM Liam Whedon Liam Whedon  says: in response to Daniel Grimm

I have been using the Internet since the days of ARPANET and DARPANET.  With the exception of electronic mail, which should be private, nothing on the internet is sacrosanct, and nothing can actually be 'protected".  Judging by the incredible blunders being made on the way to healthcare welfare (let's call it what it is!), the government hasn't got a blind clue about what should come under its wing.  Facebook, Twitter, Xanga, and other assorted blogs are ripe fields for harvest by child molestors and predators of many sorts, and as such should be harshly regulated, but not by the FTC.  Of course!  We need a new government bureau!  Why not?  More room for Washington bureaucrats .. NEW JOBS!! 

And our new motto?  "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!"

Liam

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Dec 19, 2009 10:16 AM Eric Larson Eric Larson  says: in response to Daniel Grimm

This begs a question: Which companies do you have the most sense of trust with, as far as information security goes?  Who do you think has built that trust over time?

Reply
Jun 16, 2010 10:49 AM Scrabble Help Scrabble Help  says: in response to Eric Larson

What is sure is that with facebook no one can really talk about provacy...

Reply
Jul 21, 2010 3:03 AM AffiloJetpack AffiloJetpack  says: in response to Daniel Grimm

I agree with this statement that "Facebook is an entirely voluntary, and may I add "FREE" user application. No one twists anyone's arm to join it, so caveat emptor applies.  If you don't like the privacy protection, then don't join."

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