FTC Investigates Facebook's Proposed Privacy Policies - Technologist
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FTC Investigates Facebook's Proposed Privacy Policies

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an inquiry to determine whether Facebook's recently announced privacy policies violate an agreement to obtain express consent before revealing users' private information to new viewers.

According to The New York Times, the FTC claims Facebook's new policies require users to provide Facebook with broad permission to utilize their personal information in advertising. Facebook has fired back, stating that this requirement comes from a class action settlement to users who were unhappy that their names and images were used in Facebook ads to shill products to their friends.

Facebook privacy is already a tough subject, but will this inquiry reveal anything new?

Facebook's Current Privacy Policy

According to the Times, Facebook reported that its policies do not give additional rights to the company to use consumer information in advertising -- rather, these policies "clarify and explain [Facebook's] existing practices."

However, not everyone agrees. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) worries that "Facebook users will lose control over their personal information," the Times reports. Last week, Sen. Markey sent a letter to the Commission urging it to take action.

The FTC may have particular cause to be worried about Facebook's "sponsored stories," a practice of repackaging user posts as global ads. The Commission already put its foot down in March over advertising disclaimers in social media, like sponsored tweets.

User Fears and Safeguards

The Times reports that some users disdain inadvertently becoming "pitchmen" for products, which led to litigation and a 2011 class action settlement. As a result of this settlement, Facebook claims it allows users to view the sponsored stories they have been associated with and provides them with some say as to how their names and images might be used in any future advertisements.

According to the Times, Facebook's proposed policies were posted a couple weeks ago on the Facebook site. But due to many negative comments from users -- including worries about a provision that assumes parental consent for names and images of teenagers -- and a complaint letter by privacy advocates to the FTC, Facebook reportedly has not yet implemented the policies.

We likely have not heard the last of this, as Facebook, the FTC, privacy watchdogs, and users iron out the issues raised by Facebook's proposed privacy policies.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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