Facebook Beware: FTC’s New Focus is on Consumer Data Privacy

Federal Trade CommissionEven before a group of U.S. senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into Facebook’s new sharing platform with third-party sites, the agency had declared that data security and privacy have become a central focus of the agency’s consumer protection mission.
FTC’s Acting Chief Privacy Officer Kellie Cosgrove Riley even held a one-day boot camp for federal officials on top legal privacy issues.
“In recent years, advances in computer and Internet technology have made it possible for detailed information about people to be compiled and shared more easily and cheaply than ever,” the FTC said in its annual report released this month.  “Data security and consumer privacy have become a central focus of the Commission’s consumer protection mission.”
The agency has confirmed that it is reviewing Facebook’s data collection practices and privacy policies, and those of other social-networking websites.
The primary reason for the action of Senators and the FTC is a controversial new level of sharing by Facebook, the top social network with more than 400 million users.
Announced recently by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook now will show its users visiting certain partner sites what their friends are reading or liking, such as a favorite song or recently read news story. The plug-ins were introduced last week on 75 partner sites.
But Facebook’s users have to opt out of the third-party site sharing, a process that has drawn much criticism from users themselves who have posted their displeasure on Facebook’s blog pages.
Facebook administrators continue to promote the new service and clarifying privacy controls.
“We’ve developed powerful tools to give people control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom,” said Austin Haugen, a Facebook product manager, on a blog post this week.
Haugen’s comments are part of a public relations campaign by Facebook in response to the groundswell of opposition by users, lawmakers and privacy advocates to the new sharing platform.
The FTC has increasingly brought civil actions against companies that have violated certain federal privacy rules involving the use or sharing of personal consumer data, such as phone numbers and credit card accounts.
To promote data security through law enforcement, the Commission said it has brought actions against businesses that fail to implement “reasonable security measures to protect sensitive consumer data.”  The FTC enforces several laws and rules that contain data security requirements.
Social media sites make up a relatively new frontier for the agency, though. And it has made a point of catching up in the last year.
FTC staff members have convened three public roundtables in Washington, D.C. and Berkeley, California to explore protecting consumers’ privacy online. Participants discussed social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by data brokers and other businesses.
“The goal of the roundtables was to explore how best to protect consumer privacy without curtailing technological innovation and beneficial uses of information,” the FTC said.

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