Privacy Groups Call On FTC To Block Facebook Changes

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Six privacy advocacy groups have urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block Facebook's proposed changes to its privacy policy.

The changes, which are set to go into effect in the coming days, would clarify that Facebook has the right to include users' photos, names and other personal information in advertisements to their friends.

But the privacy groups claimed the policy change would violate Facebook's 2012 settlement with the FTC. That agreement barred Facebook from sharing users' information with third parties without their permission.

"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 in a letter to the FTC Wednesday. "Consumer privacy groups have worked diligently to preserve this right and to protect the interests of Facebook users. Now it is up to the FTC based on the Order that is already in place.

The letter was signed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Patient Privacy Rights, U.S. PIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The groups expressed particular outrage that the policy change would also cover 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.

"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," the groups wrote. "This is contrary to the Order and FTC’s recognition that teens are a sensitive group, owed extra privacy protections."

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. 

In a statement, Facebook emphasized that it is only revising its policy statement and not any of its actual practices. 

"As part of this proposed update, we revised our explanation of how things like your name, profile picture and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content to make it clear that you are granting Facebook permission for this use when you use our services," a company spokeswoman said. "We have not changed our ads practices or policies — we only made things clearer for people who use our service."

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