US Senator wants FTC to regulate privacy on Facebook, other social networks

schumer.jpg Like many of us, US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) was none too pleased about Facebook's recent changes to how user data is shared with third-party companies (and made searchable online).

But the senator announced today that he believes social network privacy is a task for the Federal Trade Commission to tackle with Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and all other online social networking services:

A press release from Schumer's office announced that he has written to the FTC to ask that the agency "examine the privacy disclosures of social-networking sites to ensure they are not misleading or fail to fully disclose the extent to which they share information...(and) provide guidelines for use of private information and prohibit access without user permission."
More at CNET, and here's the press release from Schumer's office. Snip:
These recent changes by Facebook fundamentally change the relationship between the user and the social networking site. Previously, users had the ability to determine what information they chose to share and what information they wanted to keep private. Recent policy changes are fundamentally changing that relationship and there is little guidance on what social networking sites can and cannot do and what disclosures are necessary to consumers.

Under new policies, users must go through a complicated and confusing opt-out process to keep private information from being shared with third party websites. Additionally, Facebook has also created a new system whereby 'interests' listed by users on their personal profiles are automatically aggregated and shared as massive web pages. Users used to have the ability to keep this information private if they chose. These new common interest pages are a gold mine of marketing data that could use by used for spam and potentially scammers, intent on peddling their wares.


  1. Hmmm…not sure if we need Big Brother protecting us in this scenario, but it would be nice to get some broad norms for the protection of privacy online. Of course, the idea that those norms could come from the FTC, a bastion of corporate interest jabberjaws if there’s ever been one, makes me deeply skeptical.

    1. Agreed. I’m also concerned that regulation here might stifle some useful cross-web stuff, without really doing anything meaningful to protect privacy.

      FWIW, Facebook’s “interests” thing is just about as borked as Amazon’s guess-what-you-want stuff. It somehow thought I was a fan of “The Passion Of The Christ.” Let’s see… never seen it, don’t want to see it, hate Mel Gibson, not Christian, not interested in watching torture porn…

  2. Bravo Schumer! This deserves much more scrutiny. I applaud this and hope that this increases the visibility on this subject. I suspect that some are not imagining the possibilities with the status quo. As is, there is a truly scary future without oversight. There must be responsibility imposed on those companies that have only an interest in making a buck of you and yours.

    1. You know, you don’t *have* to provide private information to facebook…

      Is there any part of your life you don’t want government control of? I mean, the simple answer is to just keep your private information private.

      1. Given that one of the main things people use Facebook for is to find people and be found, “just don’t give private information” is pointless advice. “Just don’t use Facebook” would be better, but even that is fairly weak because millions are already on it, and it’s nigh impossible to get your account deleted–and even if you are able to do so, you can’t be sure that whatever information they already have won’t be used.

        The options are either trust the government, or trust a Murdoch company. I’ll go with the government.

      2. No, you don’t have to do anything, but isn’t Facebook (and other social media) predicated on private information?

        The fact they collect private information is the service they provide (and which they are now trying to monetize in many different ways). What I do, say, like, or attend should be considered private until I say it isn’t.

        There are also varying degree’s of private. Just because I, or someone else, would want to create a profile to share information, it certainly does not mean that anyone (or any company) should be able to do anything they want with that data.

        We should have complete control of that data. If I only want to share it with my mother, then I should be capable of doing that. That certainly is the “promise” when you view “privacy controls”. As is, I am sharing it with everyone regardless of my preferences. There simply is no true control.

        As for government control, is there any other entity that is capable of making companies do the right thing?

        This is a serious issue and deserves more scrutiny. If government controls are necessary, so be it. I agree it would be nice if it were not.

        Now, one way to get past the government need for intervention would be for Facebook and others to simply say *nothing* is private. They should make it absolutely clear that when you sign up and create an account it will be used to monetize your data and possibly be used for purposes beyond your control. They should even warn your data could be used for nefarious purpose.

        Somehow, I don’t think they would have too many subscribers if they don’t at least make you think you have some privacy.

        1. Boo to Chuck Schumer and same to people who post personal information to facebook and then complain that their personal information is on facebook. You want to share something with ONLY your mother? Sit down in a room with her and let her have it. Next best thing is the post. Telephone is pretty good unless one of you is overseas or you don’t mind letting the NSA in on it. Email is OK but there will be records on a computer owned by a stranger. Then there’s posting info to facebook which is probably worse than running through the streets proclaiming your relationship status and favorite books. You control your data so do with it what you will.

          1. You want to share something with ONLY your mother? Sit down in a room with her and let her have it.

            Out of context, this sounds very bad. Don’t post it to facebook!

  3. The options are either trust the government, or trust a Murdoch company. I’ll go with the government.

    I think you’re missing that, either way, you’re probably going to be trusting a Murdoch company. ;)

  4. There seems to be very much an “American” focus on this, talking about “the government”. Fair enough to the extent that Facebook is a US company, but missing a broader international perspective.

    Some countries already have quite strong privacy-protection laws, and in those, companies like Facebook and Google would regularly be in breach of those local laws. Not sure how the jurisdictions work out – whether it’s the location of the company’s head office, or perhaps their datacenters. If the latter, it becomes even more complicated, given they have such centers scattered across several countries…

  5. I find many of the above links to be quite shortsighted.

    With Facebook and the like we see a massive shift from the decentralized web and net of the olden days to a few and perhaps even one (at least per regions up to whole continents) privately-owned services.

    This can very well mean that it’ll become impossible to take part in everyday life w/out divulging anything Facebook feels people should divulge.

    “Don’t use Facebool then,” you say? Well, yes, I don’t. But I want my niece to have the option to reasonably participate to public live w/out having to conform to one company’s rule.

  6. Once again, I feel grateful for not getting drawn into the whole Facebook/Myspace thing.

    I tend to guard my privacy, and the whole premise of Facebook gave me the vague feeling of exposing myself more than I care to – proper setup and discretion with info notwistanding.

    To be honest, though, despite encouragement from friends and relatives, I just never got around to it.

    And now, I never will. This is one of the few times that procrastination actually worked in my favour. :)

  7. Isn’t Schumer the same guy who wants to introduce biometric ID cards? And he cares about privacy? Really?

  8. While I’m in the (what seems to be overwhelming) “I can take care of myself” camp, keep in mind Facebook has 400 million users, including the pre-teen and the elderly.

    Giles, Senior Editor, TrustWorks

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