Bloomberg News

Facebook Plan to Monitor User Web Browsing Rouses Alarm

July 29, 2014

The U.S. should investigate whether Facebook Inc. (FB:US)’s tracking of users’ Web browsing activities violates an agreement with the government to ensure people’s privacy, an advocacy group said.

Facebook, the biggest social networking site, began monitoring the Web habits of its users following a June 12 announcement. That’s contrary to the company’s prior representations, according to a letter sent to the Federal Trade Commission by Kostas Rossoglou, senior legal officer of the European Consumer Organization and Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

The non-governmental organizations, joined in a grouping they call the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, petitioned the FTC to open a probe into Facebook’s practices. Facebook last month said it would try to deliver more targeted advertising by viewing what its users do on sites other than Facebook.

“We are writing to express deep alarm,” the group said in its letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, said users can choose not to receive advertising that’s based on the websites they visit and apps they use.

“The level of control people have over advertising on Facebook exceeds industry standards,” Seth said in an e-mail.

Facebook in late 2011 agreed to settle complaints by the FTC that it failed to protect subscribers’ privacy or disclose how their data could be used. It later entered into a 20-year agreement with the agency that requires the company to get clear consent from users before sharing material posted under earlier, more restrictive terms.

User Controls

If the FTC finds Facebook has violated the agreement, the privacy groups would ask the agency to compel the company to stop the tracking, Chester said in an e-mail.

Facebook has been giving people more control over their settings after years of criticism over its privacy policies. In May, the company said that the posts of new members who begin sharing on Facebook will only be visible to their friends, as opposed to the public. The company also added options for users to decide what Facebook information they share with third-party applications.

To contact the reporters on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net; Sarah Frier in San Francisco at sfrier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Romaine Bostick at rbostick@bloomberg.net Elizabeth Wasserman


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