Privacy Hawks to Facebook’s Zuckerberg: Take It Back

Privacy advocates say changes may run afoul of FTC settlement

Once again, Facebook has proposed changes to its privacy policy, and once again, privacy hawks have pounced, urging CEO Mark Zuckerberg to withdraw its most recent proposal.

Facebook wants to stop letting users vote on changes to its policies and services, replacing the process with a comment period and Webcast Q&A. The social network also wants to share data between Facebook and its affiliates, such as Instagram, which the company recently bought. Facebook told its 1 billion users they had until Nov. 28 to comment. 

Two privacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy, said the changes violated Facebook's settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which requires Facebook to give users proper notice before making changes to its privacy policy and solicit express consent before sharing data with other companies.

"Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes," Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, and Jeff Chester, president of CDD, wrote Facebook.

Rotenberg and Chester sent copies of the letter to the FTC, the National Association of Attorneys General and several congressional leaders well-versed in privacy issues. If they don't get a response, the next step is to file a complaint with the FTC.

Data sharing is particularly controversial among privacy advocates, who along with the European Union and state attorneys general raised a stink when Google announced it would share and track user data across all its affiliate sites.

"When Facebook first announced its acquisition of Instagram, it also announced its commitment 'to building Instagram independently,' rather than integrating the two sites," Chester and Rotenberg wrote. "With the addition of the 'affiliates' section, however, Facebook could alter its practice of maintaining Instagram and Facebook information user information separately. It could combine user profiles and freely share user data between the two sites."

Facebook argued that data sharing in a company is a common business practice: “As our company grows, we acquire businesses that become a legal part of our organization. Those companies sometimes operate as affiliates. We wanted to clarify that we will share information with our affiliates and vice versa, both to help improve our services and theirs, and to take advantage of storage efficiencies.”