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Facebook to Face FTC?

facebook logoWill Facebook have to face the Federal Trade Commission over their three-week-old Project Beacon and Social Ads platforms? If the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy have their way, you bet.

The two privacy watchdogs have said that they intend to file against Facebook’s new advertising platforms, which they view as an invasion of users’ privacy. EPIC says they’ll file by January; CDD has already begun an official complaint against behavioral targeting in general and says they’ll join in action against Facebook.

MediaPost covers the planned action, and offers a succinct summary of the difference between the two Facebook advertising programs:

EPIC plans to protest both Facebook’s SocialAds–which tells members which of their friends have signed on as “fans” of the advertisers– and Beacon ads, which notifies members’ friends about their off-site purchases.

Okay, I’m not really thrilled with the programs, either. But I think this is going a bit far, really. Check out what EPIC has to say for themselves:

“Part of what Facebook is doing is taking from people the value of their endorsements, which traditionally is something that people can be compensated for, and selling it back to their advertisers,” says EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.

“Traditionally is something that people can be compensated for,” eh? Amazon.com owes me money for all those reviews I’ve written for them, then. Oh, wait, what? I voluntarily did that just like Facebook users signing up for Social Ads voluntarily? Oh, right.

Just because people can be compensated for their endorsements doesn’t mean that they should be, nor does it mean that we can’t provide endorsements for free. (Besides, I humbly accept the fact that my endorsement won’t bring in the same sum that an endorsement from, say, Michael Jordan would.)

Project Beacon, on the other hand, is way less cool. We already know they’ve had popular opposition from such sites as MoveOn.org:

The activist group MoveOn.org also is campaigning against Facebook’s Beacon program, which publicizes information about people’s purchases to their friends. While users can opt-out of sharing such information –either at the point-of-purchase or on Facebook itself–MoveOn says the program should be opt-in only, to ensure that members have explicitly consented. Last week, MoveOn started a Facebook group “Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!” which had drawn more than 28,000 members by Tuesday.

When I saw it yesterday, the group was just over 27,000 strong. Today? 41,000+. While the group’s growth is pretty remarkable and will probably continue for at least a few weeks, it’s also important to remember that Facebook has almost 60M members. 41,000 is a drop in the bucket.

MediaPost also reports that this isn’t the first FTC complaint against the new platforms:

Within days of the launch, the Center for Digital Democracy and US Public Interest Research Group sent a letter to FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras protesting Facebook’s new ad programs as well as an expanded behavioral targeting effort on MySpace.

Many states have laws against using someone’s likeness in advertising without their consent, but Facebook argues that its users do give consent. MoveOn.org, EPIC, CDD and company argue that opting in to a brand’s page or neglecting to opt out of the service altogether to not consent make. Who is right?

  • Eduardo F.

    I believe this is an easy fix for Facebook. I feel that SocialAds is fine, if someone ops to sponsor a product then that is their choice. Does it annoy me that I get messages all over my page about what my friends like? Sure its annoying, but thats what Facebook has always done.

    The one were you must Opt-Out is something they should change. It is a sneaky trick to get people to join it and it does invade ones privacy. How many thousands of times have peopled not opted out of something by accident only to hate whatever company tricked them later??

    Come on Facebook, you are better than that.