Privacy Groups Push FTC To Probe Facebook

Mark ZuckerbergTen privacy and consumer rights groups have requested that the Federal Trade Commission investigate the business practices of Facebook. It’s the second such request after two congressmen took issue with the social network’s cookies, and follows the announcement that Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner intends to conduct a privacy audit.

The new request is from EPIC, a consortium of U.S. consumer and privacy groups that has a number of grievances, namely that Facebook tracks its users even after they logout (apparently this has been fixed); the “frictionless sharing” feature on the new Ticker; and the Timeline and Open Graph features that were announced last week. Regarding the Ticker and Timeline, they’ve also asked the FTC to determine whether the two features increase privacy risk to users because it arranges personal information chronologically.

The chronological biography that the Timeline produces has the potential for misuse if people aren’t careful about their privacy settings, and aren’t careful about what they post. Potential employers will often check a candidate’s Facebook profile. That’s more or less tolerated. But would people feel the same way if an insurance company did it?

At present, the most serious issue for Facebook would seem to be the Irish privacy audit, which has been described by Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes as the “most detailed, challenging and intensive audit ever undertaken by (this) office.” The bulk of the network’s users reside outside of the U.S., and are the responsibility of Facebook’s international headquarters, which is in Dublin. The results of the audit are due to be published by the end of the year.

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