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EPIC Files FTC Complaint Over Facebook's New Privacy Policy 103

An anonymous reader writes "The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) today filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to investigate the recent changes made by Facebook to the privacy settings of Facebook users. The complaint discusses the sharing of user information with third-party developers and the new, widely-opposed 'Everyone' setting, which allows certain user information, such as name, profile picture, and friends lists, to be publicly available. EPIC also urges the FTC to compel Facebook to restore privacy safeguards. The complaint was signed by nine privacy and consumer organizations."
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EPIC Files FTC Complaint Over Facebook's New Privacy Policy

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  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:44PM (#30479728)
    They just maintain an illusion of privacy, that's all.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      True enough but I think there is also a lot of needless hype going on. They tweaked a few previously protected settings so that they went from private to public, for this they should get a slap upside the head, but it's not like you can't hide it all again. You can still lock down your profile just as much as you ever could.

  • Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:47PM (#30479792)
    Prediction: In response to these new privacy concerns, Facebook will change their privacy policy, tightening up security over the information people are concerned about. At the same time, they will loosen security over other information, starting a new wave of complaints.

    Let's be real - this is, what, the fourth or fifth time this sort of thing has happened and every time it does, Facebook changes their policy by tightening "here" while loosening "there". This will be no different.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by medv4380 ( 1604309 )
      True, but arnt all social networking sites about exposing your privacy online anyway?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aztracker1 ( 702135 )
        Wish I had some mod points for this one. The whole premise of a "social network" is that 3rd party friends can connect... Eventually everyone is connected to everyone, especially Kevin Bacon.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MikeURL ( 890801 )
          This is essentially why I closed my facebook account. Yes, facebook is an efficient way to keep up with friends but facebook has an inexorable interest in creating "network" connections.
    • Not really. If you do post something as everything it has a popup telling you very clearly that it will be visible to the entire internet. The people complaining about it here are just idiots poking their nose where it isnt needed/wanted.
  • Do you think they're doing it just because it sounds like Epic Fail?
  • aw man! (Score:4, Funny)

    by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:51PM (#30479834)
    i was going to release my site,, where users could enter and exchange thier social security numbers. Now i'm worried someone to will file a complaint with the FTC against me :(
  • Let's see, we can either sue somebody, or use the helpful selection screen to change our privacy settings back to the way they were.
    Lawsuit it is!
    • Friends list (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:54PM (#30479874)

      Please tell me how I can make it so that my name, profile picture, and friends list would not be publicly available (short of quitting facebook).


      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by daveime ( 1253762 )

        So why exactly did you sign up in the first place ? Having an AC account on Facebook seems kind of pointless ... and by that I mean even more pointless than the whole premise of knowing when your cousin last took a dump (some people post their entire daily routine online), or when your auntie last fed her virtual fish or cooking in her virtual cafe.

        • some people post their entire daily routine online

          That's mostly Twitter.

        • Re:Friends list (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:16PM (#30489300)

          As I've posted many times, I think it's a bit absurd to expect info you put on FB to be private in anything more than a "lock to keep your siblings out of your diary" sense. However, I do get sick of them making changes that loosen the privacy settings of existing users who probably had things set the way they wanted them for a reason.

          And more on point, I'm tired of people making demonstrably false arguments, even if they are trying to support arguably reasonable conclusions, which brings me to parent's post.

          Facebook is useless unless you publish your picture and friends list to everyone? Not seeing that one. I never published my friends list or picture; I could still be found. Even if I hid my name, I could still use FB to communicate with people I chose to communicate with.

          If you think the only use for Facebook is to make it easy for people to find you, then you're not really using the majority of FB's functionality.

      • Seeing how you don't seem to mind having an openly accessible friends list on Slashdot and whatever you put into your profile picture is completely up to you, I'll stick to the other points. Hide your name by entering a fake name on registration. The name you tell facebook is your handle. Expecting a site to hide your handle is about as dumb as heading to /b/ for serious discussions. Even better, /b/ will hide your name, too, so that might be more along the lines of what you're looking for.
        Moving on, what y

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zorg50 ( 581726 )

      Let's see, we can either sue somebody, or use the helpful selection screen to change our privacy settings back to the way they were.

      Facebook has removed the ability for users to opt out of publicly sharing certain information, including their profile photo, networks, and sex. I have every privacy setting set to "Friends Only" or "Friends of Friends," but those things are still publicly viewable in my profile.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 )
        If you go to the Search page in the settings you can allow or disallow creation of a public index and remove yourself from the internal index. Once again, its easier to complain about it then actually figure out how to use it.
        • Once again, its easier to complain about it then actually figure out how to use it.

          Hmm. Given that when they take you to the new settings, they're on least stringent settings, is it intentional how obscure it is to remove stuff from the internal index?

          I didn't even know about it and the first thing I do with any program or account is to check out the settings. How does one get there?

          • I don't know what the default is right after creating an account, but mine have been set since I made my account. Just go to Settings->Privacy->Search and you can remove yourself the index. You can even preview what your page looks like to everyone and for individual people.
          • "index" == robots.txt [].

        • Yes, but some would like to be indexed without showing all that other information. For example, I would like for those who know be to be able to find me on Facebook by searching for my name, but I would rather they didn't get any of my information until I choose to add them as a friend. Why is that so difficult for some people (including those at Facebook apparently) to understand?
      • Actually there still is an opt-out. It's called not having an account.
      • I know this is off topic, but why would you want to opt out of sex?

        Ohh, this IS Slashdot...

        (Laugh, it's a joke)

    • by El Gigante de Justic ( 994299 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:59PM (#30479924)

      The point is that you CAN'T change your privacy settings back to how they were.
      For example, you can no longer have your Profile Pic show up for friends only, and you can't hide your friends list from non-friends anymore either, along with a few other items on the profile page.

      Adding new privacy settings is good - eliminating existing privacy features is not.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by michaelmalak ( 91262 )
        I have mine set off -- but I am wondering if maybe the new Facebook user interface hasn't hit me yet?

        On the Profile page, go to the "Friends" box on the left-hand side and click on the pencil. "Show friend list to everyone" is a checkbox.

        • Don't trust that one. A few days ago, on the day Mark Zuckerberg published a bunch of pictures, I could check out his whole friends list through [] even though the list was hidden from his profile. Right now, the same query forwards to the profile page, but that might be some kind of temporary fluke or an admin perk.
          What would you want to hide your friends list for, though? Being able to quickly search through A's (whom you are friends with on facebook) friends for B's (who

          • Well maybe you're a college student and you don't want e.g. your mom seeing e.g. your (boy|girl)friend.

            • Privacy settings -> Profile information -> Family and relationship -> "custom" -> Hide this from: Mom.

              There's some 200 to 500 people in an average friend's list. Even if you made the mistake of mentioning the SO's first name in front of whomever you're keeping h(im|er) a secret from; chances are there's more than one J(ohn|ane) amongst them. Your friends list doesn't give away who your SO is; "in a relationship with [...]" does.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by aztektum ( 170569 )

        You can go in and set almost anything to what groups of people you want. All my photo albums are set to friends & networks. If I log out and goto my address, my photo doesn't show up. Nothing shows up.

        Sounds like people don't know how to actually use the new privacy settings.

        • by yali ( 209015 )

          GP wrote: "you can no longer have your Profile Pic show up for friends only". The GP was correct. From the new privacy policy []:

          Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings.

          • Wow, I wonder why you left the rest of that paragraph out?

            You can, however, limit the ability of others to find this information through search using your search privacy settings.

            • by codegen ( 103601 )
              However, if you post on a friends wall,and a friend of them sees the link on the wall, they can still see your profile
              • Not only that, even if I have no relationship at all with any of your group - but one of them happens to allow wall access to everyone (and many do) then I can pick through it to view various bits of profiles that I would otherwise not be able to see. Even if they are set to "Friends Only" for everything.

            • by yali ( 209015 )
              Ummm, because I posted the part that was germane? The GP said they didn't want others to see their profile pic. The part I quoted said you cannot restrict things that way. The part you quoted was about limiting availability in search, which is not what they were talking about.
      • You CAN hide your friends list from non-friends. It's trivially simple. Go to your profile page, click on the pencil where your friends list is, then uncheck the box that says "Show friends list to everyone"

        Ok, so it's ever so slightly obscure, but you can still do it. Profile picture, well, you can always delete it entirely, or upload something you don't care about - since your privacy settings were for friends and friends of friends, it makes no difference since they can still get access to all your pictu

  • What is the deal? (Score:1, Informative)

    by space_jake ( 687452 )
    What are these people trying to hide the fact that they're friends with Hitler or something?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zorg50 ( 581726 )
      Not all of us want our photos, etc. to be publicly available without our permission, especially when there had been an expectation of privacy of that data in the past.
    • by Nightspirit ( 846159 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:20PM (#30480230)

      There have been numerous reports of people being fired for relatively innocuous facebook pictures which didn't really have much to do with their work. One particular case had a Quebec woman lose her disability insurance for depression, because she had a facebook picture of her going to the beach. These may be an exception, but it demonstrates how an employer or the government can get into your private life in a way that wasn't previously possible.

      I have a facebook profile but I rarely post and when I do I make sure it is information that could never harm me in any way.

    • Well I don't see how it's any of your business...
  • Lets be honest. How many more advertisement, apps, data mining opportunities would Facebook earn by making its privacy options really ensure privacy? Facebook would be out of business that way. But what is ridiculous is the owner of the company writing an open letter (with apology) stating that he will work to ensure greater privacy, while disabling even the existing measures that controlled several information (esp activity) of users. This is outright dishonesty and needs to be challenged. I prefer the hon
  • Why the FTC? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quangdog ( 1002624 ) <quangdog AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:16PM (#30480172)
    I fully admit I'm pretty uninformed on this stuff - but why the FTC? What can they do about it? What control or influence do they have over what a private business does with their member's website?
    • by fbjon ( 692006 )
      It's not a private website. It's a privately owned public website.

      A private public website with partially public private and semi-private information. Any confusion now?

    • but why the FTC? What can they do about it? What control or influence do they have over what a private business does with their member's website?

      What do you mean, "what control or influence do they have"? They're an arm of the federal government, which has lots of guns. They even have a Constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, so it's nice and legal for them to point their guns around.

      This is exactly what the Federal Trade Commission exists for: consumer protection.

  • EPIC FILE! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ( 1024767 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:20PM (#30480220)


  • by magloca ( 1404473 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:22PM (#30480264)

    Ever since I, somewhat reluctantly, started using Facebook, I have followed the simple policy of making everything I post as public as possible, while simply not posting anything I don't want any random web surfer to see. If this change will make more people snap out of their false sense of Facebook privacy, all the better, I say.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Ever since I, somewhat reluctantly, started using Facebook, I have followed the simple policy of making everything I post as public as possible, while simply not posting anything I don't want any random web surfer to see. If this change will make more people snap out of their false sense of Facebook privacy, all the better, I say

      Same idea here. After all, if people got sacked or lose insurance BEFORE the privacy policy changes, these new changes reinforce the fact that Facebook isn't, well, private.


      • Don't worry - government will regulate the shit out of it and then everyone will be happily protected from actually running their own lives.

      • And hoping that Facebook won't be hacked.

        I think you just identified the most expedient way to dispel FB's aura of trust/"not google"ness.

    • ... I have followed the simple policy of making everything I post as public as possible ...

      Not good enough. Consider the same policy as when talking with cops since everything you say/write/photograph will be timestamped and stored at a location you cannot get to.

      Stuff you say in public, you can whisper. You can have reasonable expectation that someone isn't right behind you, listening and recording the whole time.

      And then, there's everyone else. Even if your policy works better than what doom&gloom

      • Failbook is a public website, there is no expectation of privacy in a public place and expecting it on a public website is retarded at best. Someone could be following you around recording what you say, and as long as you're saying it aloud, they're within their legal rights unless it crosses into the realm of harassment. You're held responsible for what you say in a public place already, so you're attempting to draw a distinction which does not exist.

        As for what your friends have to say, they can say it wh

        • I know. I'm saying Facebook is worse than simply speaking publicly. The potential audience is far larger and recorded by a 3rd party.

          • I know. I'm saying Facebook is worse than simply speaking publicly. The potential audience is far larger and recorded by a 3rd party.

            Ubiquitous surveillance is coming, like it or not; it's simply getting cheaper and easier all the time to snoop on people. I assume that going outside means I could be recorded. I'm not so paranoid that I assume going aside means I am recorded, mind you. But I assume that if I'm not in a private place, I have no privacy. Most people in the world, however, don't seem to have a handle on this, judging solely by how people will pick their nose on the freeway and then give you a dirty look when they notice you

  • Headshot!

    M-m-m-m-Monster Kill!

    Oh, not that Epic. I feel so embarrassed. Does anyone else know how to get blood out of your Facebook profile?

  • The only dumb move, and I mean really dumb move, is that facebook didn't default all privacy settings to "no one" upon adding their new feature. Users need to opt in to things like this, not be forced to opt out. They opened a huge can of worms. Literally.

    Am I the only one who thinks the new facebook is buggy as hell?

    AJAX + unresponsive backend = awkward moment

  • Leg to stand on? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pedrop357 ( 681672 )

    If users don't like certain privacy policies, they can restore their privacy by leaving the privately owned site whose policy(ies) they disagree with.

    Can someone sue because facebook allows photos to be right-clicked and saved? What if they started with some flash based photo system that didn't allow "easy" saving and later transitioned to one that did? Would that warrant a complaint to the FTC?

  • by valderost ( 668593 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:51PM (#30480696) Journal

    On the whole, we're still in the middle of a huge transition in the ways we communicate with each other, and the degrees to which we trust third parties with information that rightfully belongs to us. Facebook is no more accountable to its users than any other service; and no matter how much we might bitch and moan about changes in their privacy policies, the fact is that they are going to use our information in as many ways as they can to make money. Sharing information directly with third parties is the most obvious, but there are plenty of indirect means.

    Now that we can't hide ourselves, we're bound to attract more friends. Every one of those relationships is a potential revenue stream, either directly or indirectly. Folks at MIT recently demonstrated that they can determine to a high probability who on Facebook is gay without knowing anything about them except their friends. I'm sure the same technique applies to religion, various types of hobbies, and a number of other things we don't always give as much thought to, like criminals, terrorists and the like. These affiliations and attributes have to be a gold mine for someone, and the policy changes are a new mother lode.

    I'm glad that EPIC, FTC, etc., are interested in our privacy, as they can exert pressure to change things in ways that we as users cannot. What I'd really like to see out of all this might be some kind of formal privacy impact review before changes to social networking policies are made. Any change that degrades privacy would need to be identified by third parties, justified or mitigated by the social network, then reviewed again until it's clear that users will be better off after the change than they were before. I think that expecting users to flee a service following troublesome changes is unrealistic. The users are caught between a rock and a hard place, and Facebook will continue twisting their arms as long as the users are paying more attention to their friends and apps than they are to their privacy.

    It will be sad, yet very interesting at the same time, to see what happens when lost privacy demonstrably results in crimes of various sorts. Facebook may find that its greed has a higher human price than it might ever have realized.

    • Facebook is nothing more than a way for intel agencies to get you to fill out your own dossier: []
    • by Digypro ( 560571 )

      I think that expecting users to flee a service following troublesome changes is unrealistic.

      I disagree, think of Friendster, or even Myspace...the social networking crowd can be fickle, if facebook screws up that leaves a market opening for a competitor (ie. Google, Microsoft etc)

      • There are always going to be churn and minor movements of users among services, but I think people who have a lot invested in a network, e.g. home pages, relevant postings, active participation in groups, many photos, lots of friends they actually do interact with, etc., probably aren't going to pick up and leave en masse unless there's some grossly distasteful change in the policies or terms of service. If you're providing the service, you don't make those grossly distasteful changes at once, you progress

  • If the FTC doesn't respond to their complaint, will this be reported in the press as an "EPIC Fail"?
  • I don't understand why the FTC even has jurisdiction here. Remember folks, Facebook is FREE. That's right. You don't pay to sign up. True, they make money from advertising, but that doesn't constitute any kind of contractual relationship between Facebook and its users, implied or otherwise. (This is quite distinct from sale of a product or service, in which case the acceptance of money carries all sorts of implied warranties.) If you don't like their privacy policies, then don't use Facebook!

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.