Posted December 18, 2009 12:40 am by with 1 comment

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facebook1Back in July, Facebook was challenged by the Canadian government about some privacy concerns around third party apps and information shared that was taken about users. Many wondered how the social media giant would handle the situation. Would they thumb their nose at the information police? Would they stand up to the Canucks? Well, that was answered in August when they folded like a cheap card table and rewrote their policies to meet Canadian concerns.

Well, if that was a precedent then the folks who run the Facebook Legal team fan page (Is there really one of these? I just made that up) are about to get real busy. You see there are several privacy groups who are up in arms about the latest privacy policies handed down by Zuck and the boys.

According to the WSJ’s MarketWatch

Ten privacy and consumer groups announced Thursday they’ve filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleging that Facebook Inc.’s privacy-policy changes violate federal law.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center said in a statement that it and nine other groups are urging the FTC “to open an investigation into the recent changes made by Facebook … and to require Facebook to restore privacy safeguards.”

These kinds of things usually sound a lot worse when they are first brought to light. Ok, so let’s stand in Facebook’s shoes and let this one sit for a second and let the scariness of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) being called on to investigate your company’s privacy policies go away. Hmmm. Doesn’t seem to be working this time. Why? Well, because this could be a real serious deal for Facebook.

They went from cruising along and just gathering more and more steam in their quest to become a money making machine to now being a social media whipping boy……again. While what they have been accused of lately (breaking a valued trust with their users by making their information, all of it, public unless opted-out) isn’t sleazy on a Tiger Woods like level, it is a serious issue. That’s not good.

Now add on the possibility of the US government (you know the one that thinks it can do everything for everyone so no one needs to think for themselves anymore) being asked by not one but 10 privacy advocates to take a look at your policies. There probably were happier endings envisioned by the Facebook folks on this one, like huge profits from data being available to mine and sell.

EPIC said in its statement that the service “should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers,” adding that the changes “violate federal consumer-protection law.”

As they say in some parts of the world “Them thar is fightin’ words!” Of course Facebook has something to say about all of this.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesman said: “We’ve had productive discussions with dozens of organizations around the world about the recent changes, and we’re disappointed that EPIC has chosen to share their concerns with the FTC while refusing to talk to us about them.”

The spokesman, Andrew Noyes, also said that Facebook discussed its privacy program with regulators “including the FTC” prior to its launch.

Well, shame on EPIC for telling on Facebook after the company worked so hard to grease the skids to prevent this very thing from happening. By the way, how productive a meeting is can be pretty subjective. In other words, there is no mention of groups endorsing what Facebook did, just a statement that they met and talked.

Look this may turn out to be a non-issue. The FTC may decide to not act on the request of these groups but it might be hard for them to do so. Of course, with Facebook letting the world know that they spoke to the FTC before this move was made may make some wonder just what kind of ‘agreements and understandings’ may have been reached. Whatever they were, they may now be null and void if there is enough of a stink raised.

So what looked like a pretty strong year for Facebook may end on a sour note. They’ll get over though just like they did with Beacon. Apparently that gaffe was either forgotten or it’s the policy of the company to see just what it can get away with until someone slaps their hands or slaps them with an investigation. Your thoughts?

  • larry

    I think the big problem for Facebook is people posted information/data under previous understood levels of privacy that Facebook decided to change after the fact. Besides the deceptive presentation of more privacy controls that average users don’t fully appreciate the repercussions, notice was only available for those that happen to log on. There had to be millions of users who’s information became public completely blind. Had Facebook defaulted users to be stealth on the internet rather than exposure on many levels, we would not be having this conversation. I don’t think even some of the experts on this matter have come to terms with the full extent of exposure via friends and apps. I have found deleted status messages of mine (no appearance anywhere on my wall, profile or settings) still available to Apps. I would bet the average users has no clue what they say is exposed in addition to their basic info to that mystery underground of Facebook Applications.