by Kate Freeman
Facebook may be in hot water over privacy again. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest group, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate possible privacy violations in the new Facebook Timeline feature.
“Facebook is changing the privacy settings of its users in a way that gives the company far greater ability to disclose their personal information than in the past,” the group wrote. “With Timeline, Facebook has once again taken control over the user’s data from the user, and now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available without the consent of the user.”
The first time EPIC asked the FTC to look into Facebook‘s privacy practices, it resulted in a two-year legal battle that ended late last year with a landmark settlement between the social networking behemoth and the FTC.
This second complaint, sent on Dec. 27, points to the new Timeline feature, saying it violates the November settlement prohibiting “Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, and requires that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data.”
Timeline began rolling out to users on Dec. 6. It completely changes the way a Facebook user’s information is displayed, highlighting significant events in the user’s life from the present back to when they first signed up (or even earlier if the user inputs that data). Facebook gives you seven days to edit and refine your Timeline, without anyone else seeing it, once you enable it. This way, you can delete photos or posts you don’t want others to see.
The first complaint EPIC made in 2009 called out Facebook for promising to keep users’ information private while actually making it available to third parties. In some instances, the site had allowed advertisers to obtain personal information from users who clicked on ads. The government accused Facebook of “unfair and deceptive” practices.
Some heavy-hitters signed the initial complaint EPIC made against Facebook, including the U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation, American Library Association, the Center for Digital Democracy and Patient Privacy Rights.
The November settlement forbids Facebook from changing their privacy settings without expressed consumer consent. Nor can Facebook share more of a consumer’s information than that individual’s privacy settings allow. In addition, every two years for the next 20 years, Facebook’s privacy settings will be audited by an unbiased third party. The first FTC audit is in May.
After the settlement was finalized, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted the company made “bunch of mistakes,” and blamed the error on “poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago.” He also assured consumers of the company’s dedication to transparency.
EPIC wasn’t satisfied with that settlement, calling it “insufficient to address the concerns originally identified by EPIC and the consumer coalition, as well as those findings established by the Commission.”
Facebook has more than 800 million users, many of whom have grown increasingly aware of the importance of online security. Are you concerned about your privacy within Facebook Timeline?