Facebook is facing the risk of taking part in another battle with privacy advocates over its latest policy revisions, with users under the age of 18 one of the main sources of discord.
The top six US privacy organisations sent a joint letter to US regulators and politicians late on Wednesday arguing that recent proposed changes by the largest social networking site to its data-use policy violate the terms of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by allowing the routine use of users’ names and images for advertising without their consent.
Last week Facebook sent an email to its users notifying them of proposed policy changes, as their aim is according to the site to “make our practices more clear”. One section was also added to bring the policy up to date with terms of a $20 million legal settlement reached last week over allegations the company used names and images in its “Sponsored Story” ads without paying users or allowing them to opt out. The policy now states that users grant this permission when they use the site and that they agree not to be compensated.
They also say the impact of the policy changes on minors is “particularly pernicious” as a new line in the proposed policy states that users under the age of 18, in signing up to Facebook, effectively assert that one of their parents or guardians has agreed to allow the use of the child’s name, profile photo and other content for commercial purposes.
“Such ‘deemed consent’ eviscerates any meaningful limits over the commercial exploitation of the images and names of young Facebook users,” the US advocates wrote. “This is contrary to the . . . FTC’s recognition that teens are a sensitive group, owed extra privacy protections.”
Facebook argued the changes were solely linguistic: “We have not changed our ads practices or policies – we only made things clearer for people who use our service.” Last week, the company said it would accept user feedback on the proposed changes for seven days before enacting the new policy on September 5.
Facebook’s announcement is also criticized by its timing – it was issued on Labor day, when many Americans go on holiday and might not have had real time to respond.