Facebook's privacy policy won't be finalized for another week

The social network has faced backlash over language changes to its privacy policy during a review period. Does this mean it'll do some more wordsmithing?

After a review on the language changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy, Facebook could decide to go back to the drawing board.

Last week, the social network made a host of changes to the language it uses to describe its privacy policy, and these changes were up for user review for one week. Now that the review period has ended, it's unclear whether the social network will keep the language or massage it some more.

"We are taking the time to ensure that user comments are reviewed and taken into consideration to determine whether further updates are necessary and we expect to finalize the process in the coming week," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET.

The rub is that in the face of these language changes, Facebook has received an onslaught of criticism about how it treats users' privacy.

The changes to the language come directly from a class action privacy lawsuit the social network settled last week. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to resolve some previous ambiguity and state more clearly on its Web site exactly how it uses people's data for advertising.

Essentially, Facebook's policy asserts that by signing up to use the social network, users allow the company to "use your name, profile picture, and content" for ads. Previously the policy said, "We do not share any of your information with advertisers (unless, of course, you give us permission)." Now, the policy clarifies the language to say: "We may use all the information we receive about you to serve ads that are more relevant to you."

During the review period, user comments have been overwhelmingly negative. For example, one user wrote, "My husband and I use facebook to share pictures and updates with our family who lives far away. We DO NOT want our private pictures being shared with the world. We will be seriously considering deleting our accounts if there is not an option to opt out."

The issues raised in this user's comment reflect the sentiments of many of the comments posted on Facebook. To date, there have been nearly 25,000 comments made regarding the social network's policy language. (For clarity, Facebook confirmed it does offer an opt-out option).

Not only have users been up in arms, but a handful of civil liberties groups have also written a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission urging the government to intervene. The groups are asking the FTC to block Facebook's policy because they say it violates the terms of a 2011 privacy settlement with the FTC.

"The FTC now has additional time to analyze what Facebook has proposed," Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which is one of the groups petitioning the FTC, told CNET. "We have called on the commission to force the social-networking giant to comply with its 2011 agreement designed to better protect the privacy of its users."

However, Facebook says that it hasn't violated the settlement because it hasn't changed its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy at all -- it has just changed the language it uses to describe the policy.

Updated September 6 at 10:25 a.m. PT with comment from Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeffrey Chester.

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About the author

Dara Kerr, a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area, is fascinated by robots, supercomputers and Internet memes. When not writing about technology and modernity, she likes to travel to far-off countries.

 

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