FTC Looking Into Recent Change To Facebook Privacy Policy

facebookprivacyBack in 2011, Facebook settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission that the website deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information private, only to repeatedly allow that information to be shared and made public. The settlement requires that Facebook get explicit permission from users before sharing such information, but the FTC wants to know if the website’s latest privacy update violates that agreement.

The new terms, as revealed in late August, present the user with little option but to give Facebook 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 [Facebook].”

Another troubling aspect of the new terms is the part where Facebook declares to users under 18 that accepting the new terms indicates “that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.”

In a letter to the FTC [PDF], Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey writes that “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.”

In its defense, Facebook says some of the new language in the privacy policy is actually required, and approved by, the judge in a recently settled class-action suit against the website from users who were less-than-happy about their names and pictures being used in advertisements.

“Our updated policies do not grant Facebook any additional rights to use consumer information in advertising,” says a Facebook rep, presumably while uploading 263 pictures of their kids’ first day of school. “Rather, the new policies further clarify and explain our existing practices.”

But the FTC says the website should really have checked with the agency before instituting such a huge change to its policy.

“Facebook never sought out a discussion with us beforehand about these proposed changes,” a rep for the FTC tells the NY Times. “We’re monitoring compliance with the order. Part of that involves interacting with Facebook.”