Facebook Policy Changes Draw Privacy Advocates' Ire

Facebook proposal to use personal data in ads without compensating users violates its current policies and a 2011 settlement, privacy groups tell FTC.

Kristin Burnham

September 5, 2013

3 Min Read
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10 Facebook Features To Help You Get Ahead

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Six privacy groups have requested that the Federal Trade Commission block changes to Facebook's privacy policies that the social network announced last week. The changes, which affect Facebook's Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, allow the social network to profit from users by using their personal data in advertising.

The letter, sent late Wednesday, argued that the changes violate Facebook's current policies and the 2011 Facebook settlement with the FTC, which stated that the social network deceived consumers by failing to keep privacy promises. Privacy groups that signed off on the letter included the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, among others.

"The right of a person to control the use of their image for commercial purposes is the cornerstone of modern privacy law," the groups wrote. "It requires 'Alice in Wonderland' logic to see this as anything but a major setback for the privacy rights of Facebook users."

Facebook recently made the policy changes following a class-action lawsuit. Last week, a San Francisco judge approved a $20 million settlement that resolved claims that Facebook featured users' images in its Sponsored Stories advertisements without payment or permission. More than 600,000 Facebook users will be awarded about $15 each.

[ Should Facebook be able to use your picture in social ads without compensating you? Read more: Facebook Social Ads: How To Manage Privacy. ]

Prior to last week's policy changes, you could limit how your name and profile picture were associated with commercial, sponsored or related content via privacy settings. The new policy removes this capability and makes the opposite the status quo.

"You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content and information in connection with commercial, sponsored or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us," the new policy said. "This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you."

The privacy groups were particularly wary of Facebook's proposed handling of minors who use its site. According to Facebook's new policy, users under the age of 18 concede that at least one of their parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms on their behalf.

"Such 'deemed consent' eviscerates any meaningful limits over the commercial exploitation of the images and names of young Facebook users," the groups wrote. "The amended language involving teens -- far from getting affirmative express consent from a responsible adult -- attempts to 'deem' that teenagers 'represent' that a parent, who has been given no notice, have consented to give up teens' private information. This is contrary to the Order and FTC's recognition that teens are a sensitive group, owed extra privacy protections."

Facebook has dealt with a number of privacy problems in the past. Most recently, it faced user backlash over its new search function, Graph Search.

Although Graph Search does not give users access to information they otherwise wouldn't have -- such as a photo album a friend has marked private -- it does make it easier to surface old information and posts users might have forgotten about.

About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

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