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Facebook Faces FTC Complaint

Privacy groups tell the Federal Trade Commission and Congress that the social network is violating consumer protection laws.

Fifteen privacy and consumer protection organizations -- including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- Wednesday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and sent a letter to Congress that charges Facebook with engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law.

"Facebook continues to manipulate the settings of users and its own privacy policy so that it can take personal information provided by users for a limited purpose and make it widely available for a commercial purpose," said the complaint letter to Congress. "In fact, this complaint also speaks to a growing concern about the ability of the FTC to protect American consumers as new business practices emerge."

The move came on the same day that Facebook temporarily shut down its chat feature after finding a security hole that enabled users see friends' private instant messages.

This latest salvo against Facebook's privacy procedures claims that changes to user profile information and the subsequent disclosure of user data to other parties without users' consent "violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook's own representations," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of complainant Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a statement.

The complaint asks the FTC to scrutinize Facebook's privacy processes and to order the social networking site to better protect users' information and communications against security breaches. In part, the move came about because of Facebook's recent rollout of a feature that lets users tell members of their network about products and Web sites they like.

“Facebook now discloses personal information to the public that Facebook users previously restricted," according to EPIC.

In April, Senators Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Mark Begich, and Al Franken wrote to Facebook, voicing their concerns about "recent changes to the Facebook privacy policy and the use of personal data by third-party Web sites." The impetus behind the letter: Facebook's announced plan to disclose user data to Web sites without obtaining account holders' permission.

"Previously, users had the ability to determine what information they chose to share and what information they wanted to keep private," Schumer said in a statement.

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