FTC examines if Facebook breaking 2011 privacy deal

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is examining whether Facebook’s planned changes to its privacy policy violate a 2011 settlement with the agency.

“As in all cases, we’re monitoring compliance with the order and part of that involves interacting with Facebook,” FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan said.

Among other changes, the new policy would clarify that Facebook has the right to include users’ photos, names and other personal information in advertisements to their friends.

{mosads}A coalition of privacy groups has urged the FTC to block the proposed changes, arguing they run afoul of the 2011 FTC settlement. That agreement barred Facebook from sharing users’ information with third parties without first obtaining their “affirmative express consent.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also asked the agency to review the proposed changes in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez on Wednesday. 

“This troubling shift in policy raises a number of questions about whether Facebook is improperly altering its privacy policy without proper user consent and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which Facebook users will lose control over their personal information,” Markey wrote.

Markey and the privacy groups expressed particular concern about how the changes would affect teens. Facebook said that by agreeing to the new policy, users who are younger than 18 “represent” that their parents have also agreed to the terms.

Facebook argues that it is only clarifying its policy statement and not changing any of its actual practices.

“We routinely discuss policy updates with the FTC and this time is no different,” Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth said. “Importantly, our updated policies do not grant Facebook any additional rights to use consumer information in advertising. Rather, the new policies further clarify and explain our existing practices. We take these issues very seriously and are confident that our policies are fully compliant with our agreement with the FTC.”

Facebook had already been including users’ photos and other information in advertisements and paid $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit over the practice. Notifying users of the advertising practice was part of that legal settlement.

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