Facebook Under Fire (Again) for Falling Short on Privacy

Washington — Add the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the Center for Digital Democracy and a half-dozen other groups to those calling for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Facebook.

On Sept. 28, the same day that a pair of Congressmen called for an investigation into cookies that tracked Facebook users even after they logged out, the groups made a similar request.

“Facebook’s tracking of postlogout Internet activity violates both the reasonable expectations of consumer s and the company’s own privacy statements,” the groups said in a letter to the chairman and four commissioners.

They want the FTC to determine whether that tracking is “consistent with the policies and representations that were in place when consumers provided their personal information to Facebook or whether they constitute unfair and deceptive trade practices, in violation of consumer protection law in the United States.”

Reps. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), cochairmen of the House Privacy Caucus, asked the FTC to investigate Facebook’s tracking activities.

Even though Facebook has said it stopped the pract ice, the legislators said they are still concerned.

Their letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said the investigation would fall under the commission’s “unfair and deceptive practices” powers.

“We believe that tracking users without their knowledge or consent raises serious privacy concerns. When users log out of Facebook, they are under the impression that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities,” they wrote. “We believe this impression should be the reality.”

Citing an article in The Wall Street Journal on the topic and Facebook’s response that fixing the problem would take a while, they pressed Facebook to make it a priority and do whatever it takes to fix it ASAP.

They also want to know whether the FTC is investigating the issue already or has any plans to. An FTC spokesperson confirmed it had received the letter, but declined comment on it.

Barton and Markey have had a running correspondence with Facebook over a number of issues.

One of note came in October 2010, after a Journal report about personal information that was leaked to third-party applications even after privacy settings were adjusted.

In February 2011, the representatives objected to the company’s plans to makes users’ addresses and mobile phone numbers available to third parties. And in May 2011, they reacted after reports of security “vulnerability” that allowed “advertisers, analytics firms and other third parties the capability to access Facebook users’ accounts and personal information.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.