Facebook Faces Privacy Backlash With FTC Complaint

December 21, 2009 0

San Francisco — Privacy advocates are grousing about Facebook’s recent privacy changes effected since the second week of December has had scores of users of the world’s biggest online social network up in arms now calling on the US Federal Trade Commission to make Facebook undo the changes in an official complaint.

The subject of dispute is the default setting of the posts. The network, which has more than 350 million users, has kept the default settings to “visible to all” against keeping them private, thereby encouraging its users to share information with all.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, in association with eight other groups, filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last week urging the regulator to open an investigation into Facebook’s new privacy settings.

Facebook’s privacy modifications “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy and contradict Facebook’s own representations,” indicates the 29-page complaint, which accuses the world’s No.1 Internet social networking company of engaging in unfair and deceptive practices.

“More than 100 million people in the United States subscribe to the Facebook service. The company should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a statement.

Rotenberg said the changes will make too much user information available to the public, and also to third-party application developers that create games, contests, and other programs for Facebook.

The complaint comes a week after Facebook introduced new privacy changes that it said were intended to simplify privacy settings for its 350 million users, and to give users more control over who sees their personal information.

Facebook basically has a three-level approach to privacy: friends, friends of friends and public. Its mantra has been: “control everything you share.”

The most striking change was that the default settings for posts changed from “old settings” to “visible to all.” But many critics took issue with the fact that the new privacy settings made some personal information viewable to “Everybody” by default. And information like a Facebook user’s gender and home city were treated as public information under the new privacy policy.

So those who had never changed their privacy settings since signing up have a valid cause to necessarily review it. Also users who wish to keep their conversations, images or videos private, will require an implicit action to keep it that way. But whether this amounts to forcing the users to share has become a matter of debate.

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said in an emailed statement that Facebook had discussed its new privacy settings with the FTC prior to making the changes.

“We have had productive discussions with dozens of organizations around the world about the recent changes and we are disappointed that EPIC has chosen to share their concerns with the FTC while refusing to talk to us about them,” Schnitt said.

“Facebook is transforming the world’s ability to control its information online by empowering more than 350 million people to personalize the audience for each piece of content they share,” said Facebook communications VP Elliot Schrage, in a statement.

Facebook added a tool that lets users select privacy settings for literally each post they place on the social networking site. Via a new dropdown menu, users can specify whether the post should be made to the general public, all their Facebook friends, or a list of particular friends, family members, or work colleagues.

Facebook also launched a “transition tool” to guide members through the new settings.

Marshall Kirkpatrick, a columnist for ReadWriteWeb.com, was among the first to criticise the changes. “This is not what Facebook users signed up for. It is not about privacy at all, it is about increasing traffic and visibility of activity on the site,” he said.