Myspace settles with FTC over ad privacy flap

Myspace and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have reached a settlement over charges that the social network misled its users with its privacy policy.

Myspace logo

Myspace and the Federal Trade Commission have reached a settlement over charges that the social network let advertisers access user information without first asking for permission.

As part of the settlement, Myspace will implement a new privacy program that requires "independent privacy assessments" and runs for the next 20 years.

The original issue stemmed from a behavior that gave advertisers access to Myspace users' Friend IDs, unique identifiers that linked to user accounts on the service. The FTC alleged that Myspace was breaking its own privacy policy by not alerting users about the behavior, or asking for their permission.

"Advertisers could use the Friend ID to locate a user's Myspace profile to obtain personal information publicly available on the profile and, in most instances, the user's full name," The FTC said in a statement about the settlement today. "Advertisers also could combine the user's real name and other personal information with additional information to link broader web-browsing activity to a specific individual."

The practice took place between January 2009 to June 2010, as well as between October 2010 to October 2011, the FTC said.

Alongside that claim, the FTC charged that Myspace was not in compliance with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework and its requirements for ferrying data between the two regions. In a statement, the FTC said that issue falls under Myspace's new privacy program, and will be subject to assessments every two years alongside third-party audits.

Myspace was sold by News Corp. to digital-media company Specific Media last June for a rumored $35 million. News Corp. had purchased the social networking site in 2005 for $580 million with the hopes of using it to drive traffic to Fox's various media efforts.

In a statement about the settlement, Specific Media drew a clear distinction between its "commitment to privacy protection" and the way News Corp. previously managed the social networking site.

"Since acquiring Myspace in June 2011, we've set out to create a social entertainment experience around connecting, sharing and discovering content," the company said. "Of equal importance, we have extended this commitment to privacy protection and industry best practice to Myspace."

This is the latest FTC matter dealing with user privacy on a social networking site. Last November the FTC reached a settlement with Facebook following a complaint that it had "deceived consumers" with its privacy policies. Like today's settlement, that resulted in a similar, 20-year privacy assessment program. Prior to Facebook, there was also an FTC complaint against Google for its social networking site Buzz. The FTC said Google's privacy and opt-out features were "ineffective." That, too, ended in a settlement .

Updated at 2:35 p.m. with comment from Myspace parent company Specific Media.

 

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