The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Wednesday that it had begun an inquiry into whether Facebook’s proposed new privacy policies violated a 2011 agreement with regulators.
Under that agreement, the social network is required to get the explicit consent of its users before exposing their private information to new or unexpected audiences.
Facebook’s new policies seem to require users to grant the company wide permission to use their personal information in advertising as a condition of using the service, although the company has said the new language had no practical impact and merely made Facebook’s current practices formal.
Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, said Facebook was subject to continuing oversight by the commission because of the consent order.
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“Facebook never sought out a discussion with us beforehand about these proposed changes,” he said. “We’re monitoring compliance with the order. Part of that involves interacting with Facebook.”
Facebook said that its new policies complied with the 2011 order as well as a separate 2013 class-action settlement brought by some users who were upset over the way the company used their information in advertising.
“We routinely discuss policy updates with the FTC, and this time is no different,” Jodi Seth, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Importantly, our updated policies do not grant Facebook any additional rights to use consumer information in advertising. Rather, the new policies further clarify and explain our existing practices. We take these issues very seriously and are confident that our policies are fully compliant with our agreement with the FTC.”
Facebook’s policies were posted on the company’s website Aug. 29 and sent to most users just before the Labor Day holiday weekend, with the company stating they would be put in force Sept. 5.
After a storm of negative comments from users and a formal complaint to the FTC by privacy advocates, the company delayed adoption of the policy.
On Wednesday, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to the FTC raising concerns about the policy and asking for an investigation.
Privacy advocates said Facebook’s proposed new policies gave the company blanket permission to use the name, photo and other personal content of its users in advertising or sponsored content, subject to limited opt-out provisions.
Previously, Facebook had declared that users could “use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content.”