The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or E.P.I.C., says that Facebook’s recent changes “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.”
I wrote about those changes last week. The most controversial among them is that a Facebook user’s photo, gender, geographic region, the pages they are a fan of and their lists of friends are now open and available to the entire Web public. Facebook made these changes partly to make individual users more findable among the massive haystack of 350 million users.
Ten other privacy organizations signed the complaint, including the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the American Library Association and the Consumer Federation of America. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Canada has also been looking into Facebook’s privacy guidelines.
Among other charges, the complaint alleges that a person’s list of friends constitutes highly sensitive information. It can, for example, reveal a person’s sexual preference, or expose their loved ones to persecution by hostile governments, the complaint says.
E.P.I.C. is asking the commission to investigate the company and force it to give users more control over their privacy. It previously had success in complaining to the F.T.C. about the data broker Choicepoint, which resulted in a $15 million fine.
Facebook said in response that it was “disappointed” that E.P.I.C. had chosen to share its concerns with the commission without talking to Facebook directly. A Facebook spokesman, Barry Schnitt, sent this statement:
We’re pleased that so many users have already gone through the process of reviewing and updating their privacy settings and are impressed that so many have chosen to customize their settings, demonstrating the effectiveness of Facebook’s user empowerment and transparency efforts. Of course, the new tools offer users the opportunity to decide on privacy with every photo, link or status update they wish to post, so the process of personalizing privacy on Facebook will continue.
We discussed the privacy program with many regulators, including the F.T.C., prior to launch and expect to continue to work with them in the future.