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Watchdog group targets Facebook privacy settlement

December 15, 2011 |  3:03 pm

Facebook reached a settlement last month on charges that it violated users' privacy.

A Washington advocacy group has launched a campaign called Fix FB Privacy Fail to push the Federal Trade Commission to make changes to the privacy settlement it reached with Facebook last month.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which made the original complaint that triggered the federal government's investigation, wants Facebook users to ask the FTC via a Facebook app to strengthen the settlement.

“We want users to make their views known,” the group’s executive director, Marc Rotenberg, said in a written statement. “It is in the public interest for the FTC to improve the settlement before finalizing the proposal.”

He added: "The need is particularly clear with the rollout of Timeline. Facebook should not change user privacy settings. That should be the user's choice."

Facebook, under intense scrutiny for its privacy policies as it prepares for a $100-billion initial public offering next year, reached a settlement last month on charges that it violated its users' privacy. Facebook agreed to get its users' permission before making changes to privacy settings and to undergo independent privacy audits every other year for the next 20 years. Facebook did not admit to violating any law.

The world's largest social networking site, with more than 800 million users, settled allegations that in 2009 it made public information that users had thought would remain private. Consumer groups said the changes to the privacy settings duped users into sharing more personal information with the public than they had intended. The groups also alleged that Facebook shared too much information with third-party application developers and advertisers. 

The proposed settlement is open to public comment until Dec. 30 and requires a final vote by the FTC's commissioners.

EPIC wants the FTC to make substantial changes to the settlement. It wants Facebook to restore the privacy defaults of users to what they were in 2009 and let users access all the data that Facebook keeps about them. It wants to prevent Facebook from tracking users across the Web without their knowledge, and it wants to prevent Facebo6ok from using facial recognition without users' consent. It also wants Facebook's privacy audits to be made available to the public.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. 


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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images