Privacy group calls for federal investigation of Facebook's Timeline

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Facebook's new "Timeline" feature is legal.

"With Timeline, Facebook has once again taken control over the user's data from the user and has now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available without the consent of the user," EPIC wrote in a letter to the FTC, dated Dec. 27.

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Facebook's Timeline feature, which launched last month, replaces users' profiles with a log of information dating back to their birth. Users can still control what information they share, but Timeline makes it much easier to access even long-forgotten posts.

EPIC says Timeline might violate a settlement that Facebook reached with the FTC last year. 

"With Timeline, Facebook is increasing the exposure of users' personal information without seeking their consent," EPIC wrote.

But a Facebook spokesman argued Timeline does not change any privacy settings.

"As we explained when we announced timeline in September, and we reiterated last month when it became available worldwide, Timeline doesn't change the privacy of any content," the spokesman said in an email. "Everything is accessible to the same people who could or likely had seen it already in their News Feed sometime in the past."

He said Timeline offers "new, simpler, and more effective ways for people to control their information."

He noted Facebook gives people seven days to review their Timeline before it becomes public, and a new "Activity Log" feature helps users monitor what information they're sharing.

"We think these innovations are things privacy advocates should be applauding," the spokesman said.

Facebook settled charges with the FTC in November that it failed to follow its own privacy policies. The FTC complaint accused Facebook of sharing its users’ personal information with advertisers and changing its privacy policies without obtaining its users' consent.

The settlement with the FTC requires Facebook to implement a comprehensive privacy program, including outside privacy audits, for the next 20 years. Facebook is barred from misrepresenting its privacy practices going forward and could face fines of $16,000 per violation, per day if fails to comply with the order.

In a blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted making "a bunch of mistakes" but said that shouldn't overshadow "much of the good work we've done."