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Consumer Groups To FTC: Block Facebook's New Privacy Changes

Facebook's new proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy violate Facebook's 2011 settlement with the FTC, privacy advocates say
Facebook has privacy advocates up in arms again -- this time in the wake of proposed changes to its data use policy.

A coalition made up of Consumer Watchdog, the Electronic Privacy Information (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy, Patient Privacy Rights, U.S. PIRG, and Privacy Rights Clearing House has asked the Federal Trade Commission to enforce a previous consent order with Facebook. The privacy advocates say Facebook's newly proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy violate Facebook's 2011 settlement with the FTC.

"The changes will allow Facebook to routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent. The changes violate Facebook's current policies and the 2011 Facebook settlement with the FTC. The Commission must act to enforce its Order," the coalition said in a letter to the FTC.

"Facebook has long played fast and loose with users' data and relied on complex privacy settings to confuse its users, but these proposed changes go well beyond that," said John M. Simpson, privacy director for Consumer Watchdog. "Facebook's overreach violates the FTC Consent Order that was put in place after the last major privacy violation; if the Commission is to retain any of its credibility, it must act immediately to enforce that order."

The proposed changes by Facebook are especially detrimental to Facebook members who are minors, the group says.

Facebook's new proposed policy says: "If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent 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."

That leaves the images and names of minors on Facebook vulnerable, according to the privacy advocates.

Under the Proposed Data Use Policy, Facebook says it now can use any information it receives about members to serve more relevant advertising. "Facebook also makes the remarkable claim under the proposed new policies that 'User names and User ID’s are the same thing' This reflects a profound misunderstanding of privacy protection – names are often ambiguous, User IDs are unique identifiers, and it is the misuse of User IDs that has contributed to many of the privacy problems on Facebook," the privacy group wrote in its letter to the FTC (PDF).

"We urge you to act. The right of a person to control the use of their image for commercial purposes is the cornerstone of modern privacy law," the coalition said. "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."

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