Privacy groups want FTC to oppose Facebook's policy changes

Facebook said the proposed changes do not reflect a change in its ad practices or policies

Six privacy groups have asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to strike down proposed changes to Facebook's policies, as they violate a 2011 settlement with the agency over user privacy.

"The changes will allow Facebook to routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent," the groups wrote in a letter Wednesday to the FTC. The groups asked the commission to enforce its 2011 order.

Facebook announced in August proposed updates to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, two key documents that explain how the social network collects and uses people's data.

In the revised Statement, Facebook states that by joining the site, users "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." In the original Statement, people can use their privacy settings "to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us," the groups said.

The changes proposed by Facebook follow the approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco division of a US$20 million fund for Facebook to settle a class-action lawsuit against the site's "sponsored stories" advertising program. The complainants, some acting on behalf of minors, had alleged that their names and likeness had been used without their prior consent in "sponsored stories" advertisements shown to their online friends on the social networking website.(

"The pending changes arise from a class action settlement in which the attorneys who purported to represent the interests of Facebook users granted the company a right that was contrary to the company's policy at the time the litigation was initiated," wrote the groups, which include the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Patient Privacy Rights, U.S. PIRG, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

As a result, Facebook users who "reasonably believed" that their images and content would not be used for commercial purposes without their consent could find their pictures showing up on the pages of their friends, endorsing the products of Facebook's advertisers, the groups wrote. "Remarkably, their images could even be used by Facebook to endorse products that the user does not like or even use," they added.

The groups also object to what they consider a "deemed consent" that Facebook requires from minors. Under the proposed changes, minors have only to represent that at least one of their parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of the section, and the use of their name, profile picture, content, and information, on their behalf. Such deemed consent "eviscerates any meaningful limits over the commercial exploitation of the images and names of young Facebook users," the groups wrote.

Facebook said the proposed update did not change its ad practices or policies, but only made things clearer to people who use the service. "As part of this proposed update, we revised our explanation of how things like your name, profile picture and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content to make it clear that you are granting Facebook permission for this use when you use our services," wrote a Facebook spokeswoman in an email.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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