What You Should Know About Facebook's Response to the FTC

As the online privacy debate continues to swirl from Main Street to Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill, Facebook, for one, has fired back with a nuanced and detailed reply to inquiries both Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. What's included in the response tells us much about the social network's long-term philosophy on the privacy issue, and its plans for the future.

As the online privacy debate continues to swirl from Main Street to Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill, Facebook, for one, has fired back with a nuanced and detailed reply to inquiries both Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. What’s included in the response tells us much about the social network’s long-term philosophy on the privacy issue, and its plans for the future.

Facebook’s lengthy response to a Congressional inquiry over the site’s User IDs and the Federal Trade Commission’s plan to protect online privacy offers one of the most detailed glimpses yet into the company’s stance on privacy and how the issue should evolve.

In case you don’t have time to read the full 29 pages, we bring you what you should not miss. Among the highlights:

Web companies should be self-regulated so as not to stifle innovation. The company said it agreed with the FTC that the principles of greater transparency and “privacy by design,” are important, but argued that individuals’ “evolving perceptions of privacy” should also be taken into account.

Facebook’s previous actions in response to user complaints against its privacy policies are further evidence that “self-correcting” is satisfactory for the Web. “Facebook’s efforts to engage with its users on changes to its privacy policy or information sharing practices are virtually unparalleled in the industry. We are the only major online service provider that allows users to vote on the changes if comments reach a pre-set threshold … Time and again, Facebook has shown itself capable of correcting course in response to user feedback and thereby continuing to build trust … private-sector efforts are particularly well suited for solving privacy-related problems on the Internet.”

The company is obliged by user demand to respect individual privacy. “For Facebook — like most other online service providers — getting this balance right is a matter of survival. If Facebook fails to protect the privacy of its users adequately, those users will lose trust in Facebook and will stop using the service.”

The FTC must be sensitive to the business implications of its decisions. “For Facebook–like most other online service providers–getting this balance right is a matter of survival. Ultimately, the FTC’s enforcement activities in the area of privacy must be guided by the realization that aggressive enforcement and imprecise standards can lead to more legalistic disclosures–and, as described above, chill economic growth–as companies seek to manage regulatory risk by over-disclosing, reserving broad rights, and under-innovating. To avoid these unintended consequences, the FTC should err on the side of clarifying its policies rather than taking aggressive enforcement action against practices that previously were not clearly prohibited.”

Social media is a critical engine of growth, democracy and innovation across multiple sectors.

  • Government: “In government, leaders use social media services to promote transparency, as evidenced by the nearly 140,000 followers of the White House Press Secretary’s Twitter feed and the fact that more than 70 federal agencies have Facebook pages.”
  • Democracy: “Advocates of democracy used Twitter to make their voices heard following the contested 2009 Iranian election of and Oscar Morales in Colombia famously employed Facebook to organize massive street demonstrations against the FARC terrorist group in 2008. Most recently, people in Tunisia and Egypt used social media to spread up-to-the-minute news, share videos of local events with the broader population, and mobilize online communities of thousands (and sometimes millions) behind a common cause.”
  • Business: “Finally, the social web is a crucial engine for economic growth and job creation. Hundreds of thousands of application developers have built businesses on Facebook Platform. To take just one example, games developer Zynga, creator of the popular Farmville game, has more than 1,300 employees and has been valued at about $5.8 billion.”

Read the full text of Facebook’s comments to the FTC here or below. What do you think of their response?

Facebook Comments: Commerce Dept. Dynamic Privacy Framework