Consumer protection groups seek FTC oversight of Facebook

Time and time again Facebook has rewritten it's own user privacy policies, with each subsequent change releasing more private information into the public domain. (Check out this great pictograph highlighting the changes.)

In the wake of the most recent changes, fifteen consumer protection groups filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Facebook of unfair and deceptive trade practices and violating consumer protection laws.

"Facebook continues to manipulate the privacy settings of users and its own privacy policy so that it can take personal information provided by users for a limited purpose and make it widely available for commercial purposes," reads the letter. "The company has done this repeatedly and users are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated."

For it's part, Facebook says its done nothing wrong. Analysis may prove that Facebook hasn't broken the law, but there's no question that the expectation of privacy that users once had when using the service has been eroded significantly with little recourse for users, with Facebook retaining your data even if you delete it from the site.

Yes, you read that right. Facebook continues to hold user data even if you delete it.

The backlash against Facebook seems to be building. It will be interesting to see if Facebook chooses to protect user privacy before a strong competitor can emerge.

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10 thoughts on “Consumer protection groups seek FTC oversight of Facebook”

  1. You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a website of any size or quality that DOESN'T keep everything plugged into it basically forever. It's standard practice to only destroy data that actually needs to be, and to just hide everything else. Facebook is only unique in the sense that they tell you so. Everyone else does it anyway.

    1. Facebook is also unique in the sense that they continue to sell your data to advertisers after you "delete" it.

      And, all of these issues are contrary to the original user agreement.

      1. I don't think they're even remotely unique about that, actually, and all the FUD that's getting spread around lately isn't doing much to help other companies who are doing this be honest about it.

        As for the user agreement: I don't recall any of them specifically, but those things almost always contain a "this agreement can change at any time."

        Websites aren't free — websites on the scope and scale of Facebook least of all — there's a price of admission. For Facebook, it's letting them use your data to advertise to you. (Just like gmail does)

        1. There's no question that Facebook has every right to make money and every right to revise their policies. If you look at a recent redline of the privacy policy, you can see that the changes are extensive.

          The crux of the push-back against Facebook would seem to be in the implementation of the changes (opt-out versus opt-in) and the principle shift that reclassifies information that was protected as public.

          Again, this isn't the first stink that Facebook has created with its install base about privacy. You would think I would have learned my lesson, huh?

    1. I think all sharing in Facebook should be opt-in. You used to be able to hide your profile from a boss or stranger, now you cannot. You used to be able to stay connected to an interest group, such as adoption, without sharing that relationship with the world. Facebook used to work that way, but it doesn't anymore and that's a real shame. Facebook has changed the landscape and unilaterally decided what should & should not be public information about its users.

      My two cents – Facebook had it right a year ago. New "features" should change privacy settings unless a user opts-in. Plain & simple.

      1. "You used to be able to hide your profile from a boss or stranger, now you cannot."

        I don't think that's accurate. I'm looking through the privacy settings right now and they're all still there. Block people, hide certain parts of your profile from them (like your "connections").

        I hesitate to doubt the EFF, but they seem to be spreading a lot of really bad info the past few weeks about facebook.

        1. Pete – Perhaps my brush was too broad with the word "profile". Perhaps "profile details" would have been more accurate.

          You can block your profile details in so much as people viewing it from your profile page, but you are still listed publicly on the connection/interest pages, such as Ultimate Frisbee, whereas before that could be hidden. So… if your boss performs a search on that publicly available page, your interest in [insert cause/page/etc here] would be easily accessible. You're only relief is to "unlike" those pages/causes/cities/artists/interests/etc… and you have to do each one individually.

          It should also be noted that those Likes & Connections are now visible to third-party search engines and advertising partners, who may use that data in a way which you never intended.

  2. I've heard about this a while ago, and I guess, the only thing we can do, is be extra cautious about what information we are sending out to the public. It's unnerving how anyone with the right access to these social networking sites can freely alter, use and do away with our information.

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