Privacy Groups Charge Facebook Policy Changes Violate FTC Order

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Facebook's proposed changes spell out use of users' data in ads

Facebook is in the privacy crosshairs again, this time over proposed changes to its data-use policy. Charging that the changes violate Facebook's 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, a group of privacy and consumer organizations are calling on the agency to take action.

The proposed changes arose from a class action lawsuit Facebook settled late last week for $20 million for sharing users' likes in sponsored stories without their permission. Days after the settlement, Facebook posted the proposed changes, which clearly states how Facebook may use users' images, content and name in connection with advertising. 

In a letter sent late Wednesday to the FTC groups including Electronic Privacy Information Center, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, charged Facebook's new proposed policy reverses old language that gives users' some control over how their information, pictures and name are used in connection with advertising and makes it a default setting. That, the groups charge, is contrary to the FTC's order and would let Facebook "routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without their consent."

"Facebook has long played fast and loose with users' data and relied on complex privacy setting to confuse users, but these proposed changes go well beyond that," said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's privacy director. 

Under Facebook's proposed statement of rights and responsibilities, Facebook says users "give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you."

Because Facebook took away last November users' rights to vote on any proposed changes, they no longer can give "affirmative express consent" as spelled out in the FTC's order, the groups argue.

"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.

Facebook is giving users seven days to comment. So far, the social network has been bombarded with negative comments, especially the use of personal photos.

Facebook insisted that it is not changing anything, but merely updating its language. "All we are changing is that we are providing more information and more specifics," Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer told the Los Angeles Times

Copies of the FTC letter were also sent to the National Association of Attorneys General, the Senate commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety and insurance, and the House energy and commerce subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade.

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