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Facebook's proposed privacy policy changes face FTC review

Agency asked to review whether social network's proposed changes violate a 2011 settlement agreement.

The US Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that it will review Facebook's new proposed privacy policy to determine whether it violates a 2011 settlement agreement with the agency, according to The New York Times.

The inquiry comes after a handful of civil liberties groups complained to the agency earlier last week that the social network's new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy actually gave them less privacy. The groups asked the FTC to block implementation of the new policy because they said it violates the terms of a 2011 privacy settlement that requires the social network to obtain "affirmative express consent" before it can expose users' private information.

The change in language was the result of a class action privacy lawsuit that Facebook settled last month in which it agreed to state more clearly on its Web site exactly how it uses people's data for advertising. Facebook's previous policy stated: "We do not share any of your information with advertisers (unless, of course, you give us permission)." The proposed policy seems to assert that by signing up for the service, users grant Facebook permission to "use your name, profile picture, and content" for ads.

An FTC spokesman told CNET that the agency continuously monitors Facebook compliance with the 2011 settlement.

"As in all cases, we're monitoring compliance with the order, and part of that involves interacting with Facebook," spokesman Peter Kaplan said in statement.

Echoing previous statements to CNET, Facebook defended the language change as clarifying its existing policy and denied that any new rights are included.

"We routinely discuss policy updates with the FTC, and this time is no different," Facebook spokesperson Jodi Seth said in a statement. "Importantly, our updated policies do not grant Facebook any additional rights to use consumer information in advertising. Rather, the new policies further clarify and explain our existing practices. We take these issues very seriously and are confident that our policies are fully compliant with our agreement with the FTC."

Facebook posted the proposed changes to its Web site on August 29 and said they would be implemented on September 5 after a week-long review period. But adoption of the policy was put on hold last week after a wave of overwhelmingly negative comments from users about the proposed changes.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the FTC (PDF) expressing concern over the proposed changes and asking the commission to determine whether the changes violate the terms of the 2011 settlement.