confirmed Wednesday that it will review Facebook's latest changes to its privacy policies to determine whether they violate a 2011 agreement with federal regulators.
The changes, which Facebook announced August 29, provide more information about its advertising policies and facial recognition feature. According to the updated document, Facebook users now agree to permit businesses to pay the social network to display your name and profile picture with your content or information without any compensation to you. The updated wording of the policy states that by using Facebook, you are agreeing to these terms.
The updates also describe how the company uses facial recognition technology to identify you in your friends' photos and to suggest that friends tag you. It's this photo tagging feature that the FTC plans to investigate, according to FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan.
[ How can your privacy settings protect you from nosy Facebook searchers? Read Three Facebook Privacy Settings to Check. ]
Kaplan said the FTC had no reason to believe that the company had violated the 2011 agreement but that it was "monitoring compliance with the order and part of that involves interacting with Facebook." He said that Facebook never approached the FTC beforehand about the proposed changes.
Facebook said that the FTC was informed of the new language just before it was posted to its blog, and that it complied with both the 2011 agreement and this year's class-action settlement. Facebook is not required to submit changes to its privacy and data use policy to the FTC.
According to the 2011 agreement, the social network is required to get the explicit consent of its users before exposing their private information to new audiences. Privacy advocates say that the Tag Suggest feature violates that agreement. Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in a statement to InformationWeek that the updates were intended to better explain its policies. "We were not required to change our policies and we have not done so. The updates to our Data Use Policy were language clarifications to better explain our policies," she said.
Facebook's new policy proposal came after a San Francisco judge approved a $20 million settlement that resolved claims that Facebook featured users' images in its Sponsored Stories advertisements without payment or permission.
Shortly after Facebook announced the proposed changes, a group of six privacy advocates sent a letter to the FTC requesting that it block the changes because they violated Facebook's current policies. The privacy groups that signed off on the letter included the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, among others.
"The right of a person to control the use of their image for commercial purposes is the cornerstone of modern privacy law," the groups wrote. "It requires 'Alice in Wonderland' logic to see this as anything but a major setback for the privacy rights of Facebook users."
Facebook announced late last week that it had decided to delay the proposed policy changes, and that it anticipated the new date would be "in the coming week." The FTC's new involvement suggests the date may be pushed further back.
"We are taking the time to ensure that user comments are reviewed and taken into consideration to determine whether further updates are necessary and we expect to finalize the process in the coming week," the social network said in a statement.
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