Watchdogs File FTC Complaint on Facebook’s Privacy Shift

A recent move by Facebook nudging users to make more of their information public has angered privacy groups, which are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company.

In a complaint filed yesterday with the FTC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and other privacy advocates accuse Facebook of “unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The complaint singles out the company’s data sharing relationships with third-party developers, describing its policies with those parties as “unclear and confusing.”

But more than the third-party relationships, it dwells on changes to settings that let Facebook account holders control who can see their profile information. That information includes photos, contact information, friend information, and status updates, among other details.

Beginning this month, the social network began asking people to verify what information they’d like to share with friends versus non-friends, and even non-Facebook users. For some information — such as status updates, photos, and personal interests, the default sharing setting is “everyone.”

EPIC’s letter stated that as a result of the changes, “far more” user information became public.

“Facebook’s actions injure users throughout the United States by invading their privacy; allowing for disclosure and use of information in ways and for purposes other than those consented to or relied upon by such users,” states the complaint. Facebook claims more than 100 million registered users in the United States.

The letter is signed by the Electronic American Library Association, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, and other groups.

In a statement, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the company has gone to lengths to inform users of its new approach to privacy through direct notification and media outreach. He said it discussed the changes with regulators, including the FTC, prior to implemention.

“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 statement said.

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