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Privacy group asks FTC for Facebook inquiry

September 29, 2011 |  9:47 am

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into Facebook's tracking of users after they log off the service.

The group is also asking the FTC to examine if Facebook's new Ticker and Timeline features pose privacy risks for users.

Privacy rights advocates say they want the FTC to investigate if the new features constitute unfair or deceptive business practices.

The privacy rights group filed a letter with the FTC on Thursday.

"Facebook's frictionless sharing and post-log-out tracking harms consumers throughout the United States by invading their privacy and allowing for disclosure and use of information in ways and for purposes other than those to which users have consent and relied upon," the letter reads.

The letter is signed by other consumer groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Action.

In an interview earlier this week, EPIC's Executive Director Marc Rotenberg told The Times he planned to file the letter highlighting his organization's concerns, which he said the agency had so far failed to address. Among the privacy issues that concern Rotenberg: Facebook’s default privacy settings and its facial-recognition feature.

"It's getting really difficult to evaluate the changes that Facebook makes, and I say that as a privacy professional. I can't imagine what the typical user goes through," Rotenberg said. "Users might opt in to what Facebook is planning to do, but Facebook never gives users that option. It just marches forward and users have to go along."

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company did not track users after they logged out of Facebook. The issue was first raised by Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic.

"There was no security or privacy breach," Noyes said. "Facebook did not store or use any information it should not have. Like every site on the Internet that personalizes content and tries to provide a secure experience for users, we place cookies on the computer of the user. Three of these cookies on some users' computers inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook.  However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users. Therefore, we could not have used this information for tracking or any other purpose."

Noyes added that the new features on Facebook give users "complete control" over how they share information and with whom.

"Some groups believe people shouldn't have the option to easily share the songs they are listening to with their friends. We couldn't disagree more and have built a system that people can choose to use and we hope people will give it a try. If not, they can simply continue listening and reading as they always have," he wrote in an e-mail.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) also raised concerns in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz on Wednesday. The two lawmakers, who have aggressively pursued Facebook on privacy issues, say they are concerned that Facebook is tracking users without their permission.


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Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off Timeline, a dramatic redesign of users' profiles. Photo: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg