Markey Fired Up Over Facebook Privacy Changes

By Jennifer Moire 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is concerned over the changes Facebook announced last month regarding its privacy policies.

Markey is so concerned, in fact, that he fired off a letter to the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday, which coincides with the FTC’s announcement that it is launching an investigation into whether the changes affect an agreement the social network made with the government in 2011.

That agreement states that Facebook must get user consent before making changes to how customer data are used, and it bars the social network from sharing users’ information with third parties without their “affirmative express consent.”

On Aug. 29, Facebook updated its data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities to make it easier for the company to collect even more customer information for a database of users’ profile pictures aimed at improving its photo-tagging feature.

Since the announcement, privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and consumer watchdog groups have been up in arms, submitting a letter to the FTC last week expressing their concerns over the proposed changes.

Echoing the sentiments of some privacy groups, Markey wrote:

This troubling shift in policy raises a number of questions about whether Facebook is improperly altering its privacy policy without proper user consent and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which Facebook users will lose control over their personal information.

Of particular concern to Markey was the impact the changes would have on teens, as he wrote:

Teens, often impressionable and still developing and learning safe online habits, are especially vulnerable. Accordingly, the FTC should pay close attention to any change that could harm our nation’s young people.

Facebook insisted that the changes were made in consultation with the FTC, and that the proposal is meant to clarify, not change, the data policies in place.

The social network added that it informed the FTC of the new language just before it was posted to its website, and its new policies complied with the 2011 FTC order, as well as with the terms of a separate 2013 class-action settlement, which requires Facebook to notify users that their photos and other information could be used in advertisements.

Readers: Will the FTC take another look at Facebook’s changes to its data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities?