Markey Calls for Facebook Crackdown

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has called on the Federal Trade Commission to make Facebook stop tracking users across websites after they have logged out of Facebook accounts, and to suspend facial recognition tools pending the FTC's completion of an investigation into Facebook's compliance with an existing consent decree (Facebook is under a FTC consent decree dating from its 2011 settlement of FTC allegations it deceived consumers by not keeping its privacy promises. The FTC is authorized to enforce such pledges under its Sec. 5 (unfair and deceptive practices) authority).

That came in a letter to the FTC, which as of this week boasts a new chairman and three new commissioners

Facebook agreed to better protect user data from misuse, or unauthorized use, by third parties. 

The FTC has principal enforcement authority over online privacy, both edge and, at least when the FCC's network neutrality reg rollback takes effect, ISPs.

Related: FTC Confirms Facebook Investigation

Markey wants the FTC to take some other steps to insure compliance with a 2011 consent decree Facebook entered into to settle allegations it was not sufficiently protecting data privacy, an issue that has resurfaced big time with the Cambridge Analytica data mining revelations that brought Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to D.C. to face a gauntlet of unhappy legislators from both parties.

Markey also cited recent revelations that "malicious actors" had used Facebook search functions to collect phone numbers and email addresses on the 'dark Web' for most of its 2 billion users.

He said those invasions of privacy and breeches made a compelling case that Facebook had violated the settlement. If so, it could be in for hefty fines, which Markey says the FTC should make it pay if it shares his conclusion at the end of the investigation. But in the meanwhile it needs new safeguards, he said. 

“Recent reporting regarding the social media platform Facebook points to a disturbing record of failure to protect users’ privacy and misuse of Americans’ personal data, Markey writes. “These revelations strongly suggest that Facebook violated a 2011 settlement with the FTC.” 

Markey says new privacy safeguards should include:

1. "Creating and managing a mechanism that allows the public to review any substantial changes to Facebook’s privacy practices that are subject to the 2011 consent order.
2. "Requiring Facebook to cease all tracking of users across websites after users have logged out of their Facebook accounts
3. "Prohibiting Facebook from repealing or weakening its current policy prohibiting applications from collecting users' data based on their “friends’” permission
4. "Requiring Facebook to release publicly and automatically transmit to the FTC any consumer complaints or records that contradict, qualify, or call into question Facebook’s compliance with the consent decree."  

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.