FTC privacy complaint launched against Facebook

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Eight groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook's new privacy settings for its 350 million users. The 29-page complaint accuses Facebook of deceptive practices, violating "user expectations" and diminishing privacy.

The ringleader is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group focused on civil liberties, although it's also joined by nine other consumer protective groups, including the American Library Association, in the complaint.


Last week, Facebook decided to revise its privacy settings -- some say even encouraging its users to put out more information visible to everyone on the Web.

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt denied any arm-twisting, instead saying that personal information available for searching is simply "the way the world is moving," according to Reuters.

Schnitt said disgruntled users will have to opt out of placing sensitive information anywhere on their profile. (Users can revert back to old settings by un-clicking a box under privacy settings, although more information will still be available than before.)

The ACLU even offered a "What Do Quizzes Really Know About You?" quiz on Facebook to highlight how much third-party users learn about you and your friends by taking a random test on one's favorite 80s movie or fairytale character. I highly encourage any Facebook users out there to look at it and understand how the information stream works.

What's the downside? That users will be used as fodder for advertisers and their information given to third parties for cash. Facebook board member Mark Andreessen said earlier this year that Facebook is destined to make billions of dollars of revenue because it grew its base of users to attract advertisers.

Because Facebook is a free service, the FTC can do little aside from ordering it revert back to a previous policy. Essentially this means the filed complaint was definitely grandstanding and more media event than movement.

If you are worried about your public information hijacked by insurance or credit card companies, you can follow Schnitt's advice and take down anything from your profile that you don't want potential advertisers (or strangers) to know about you.

For more information, check out this privacy checklist that highlights the privacy pitfalls of Facebook.

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