Privacy groups mull action after Facebook deal with fitness app

Privacy groups are considering asking the federal government to intervene in Facebook’s recent purchase of fitness app Moves.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy both said Tuesday that they are considering asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Facebook’s acquisition of Moves.

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The conversations of whether to ask for FTC in the acquisition deal come after Moves changed its privacy policy recently to permit sharing users’ data with Facebook.

As of last week, the app’s privacy policy pledged not to share its users’ information with third parties, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This week — less than two weeks after Moves announced it was being acquired by Facebook — the app updated its privacy policy to permit sharing with Facebook.

The new policy says the company “may share information, including personally identifying information, with our Affiliates (companies that are part of our corporate groups of companies, including but not limited to Facebook) to help provide, understand, and improve our Services.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said Tuesday that Moves user data will not be integrated into Facebook's profiles of users.

Instead, the company will use the data to to support the app, the spokeswoman said.

Privacy advocates expressed concerns about the updated policy.

“The fact that they’ve changed their privacy policy so quickly is disappointing” and “deserves some investigation,” Julia Horwitz, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he is “exploring FTC regulatory action.”

The Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center asked the FTC to weigh in earlier this year over concerns about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.

Horwitz said one potential plan of action would be to ask the FTC to intervene in a supplemental filing to her group’s original complaint to the agency about the WhatsApp deal.

Although Moves now shares user information with Facebook, the original privacy policy said that the app would give user info to third parties “if our business or assets, or parts of them, are acquired by a third party.”

Horwitz said that differentiates Moves privacy policy changes from potential privacy policy changes by WhatsApp, which had pledged early on not to collect user data.

“They built in this little loophole” that is often found in tech companies’ privacy policies, she said.

Another difference is that Moves, as a fitness app, handles health and fitness data, while WhatsApp is a messaging and communications service, Horwitz said.

She said her group “might alert the FTC that this is a particularly sensitive area for consumers” and therefore warrants a close examination.