After over a year of silence by the FTC concerning Internet privacy, the Commission has responded to the increasingly loud outcry by privacy advocates and legislators. Earlier this week, the FTC announced that it plans to create guidelines on Internet privacy. A spokeswoman for the FTC stated that the FTC is “examining how social networks collect and share data as part of a project to develop a comprehensive framework governing privacy going forward.” The guidelines will provide a framework for how social networks and others collect, use and share personal data.
The catalyst for this step appeared to be a letter sent by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), along with fellow Democratic senators Franken (Minn.), Bennet (Colo.), and Begich (Alaska), to the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in response to Facebooks’s announcement that it would make data from its users available to third parties unless Facebook users opted out. Schumer’s letter requested Zuckerberg to reverse the policy and expressed concern that the federal government had not stepped up to protect the consumer from misuse of personal information. It called for the FTC to adopt consumer enforcement rules, and to step up consumer protection enforcement. See this Washington Post article.
Specifically, the senators requested Facebook to use an “opt-in” method, as opposed to the “opt-out” method announced by Facebook. Facebook has been pushing the envelope on sharing the personal data of its users for months now, and it was simply a matter of time before it reached the tipping point. With each new step taken by Facebook, privacy advocates denounced the moves more strongly, and criticized the FTC for failing to respond to complaints over Facebook’s changes, as well as the mishap by Google when it launched its own social networking site, Buzz. One thing is certain – this battle will continue to be waged aggressively on both sides. For Facebook, there are millions of dollars in revenue at stake. For the privacy advocates, Facebook is aiming to make itself the center of the internet, without regard to users’ privacy rights or the ability to control their personal data. The FTC has been under increasing pressure to impose a European-style opt in” standard in connection with the use of personal data by social networking sites. CDD FTC Complaint If past experience is any indication, however, it will be months before we know definitively whether the FTC will choose to move in that direction.
(Posted on behalf of Jane Shea)