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CMD Demands Investigation of Facebook's Impact on Privacy
CMD has signed onto a letter with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and seven other pro-privacy groups requesting that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate changes Facebook has made to user accounts that undermine the privacy rights of millions of users.
The letter focuses on two recent policies implemented by Facebook called "frictionless sharing" and "post-log-out tracking." According to the letter, "frictionless sharing and post-log-out tracking harms consumers throughout the United States by invading their privacy and allowing for disclosure and use of information in ways and for purposes other than those to which users have consent and relied upon."
Frictionless sharing is "Facebook's term for allowing applications to automatically share users' activity rather than having users initiate each instance of sharing themselves." Facebook developed two new features called "Ticker" and "Timeline" to promote this concept.
The letter explains that "Ticker displays every type of Facebook activity in which a user can engage: sharing links, posting status updates, commenting on other posts, posting pictures, tagging people in pictures, 'liking' things, and so on." Its impact on user privacy is concerning because "Ticker allows a user to see the Facebook posts of complete strangers-or even Facebook interactions between complete strangers-to which a friend of the user has connected." Moreover, the letter states that "Ticker will soon be filled with detailed information about users' media consumption and lifestyle habits-the TV shows they watch, the books they read, the websites they visit, and the routes they jog, most likely without users affirmatively setting their preferences to share such information."
Timeline poses similar privacy issues. "Timeline acts as a user's 'main' profile page and automatically summarizes the user's life, from birth to present day. Timeline uses every piece of information that has ever been shared with Facebook-by the user or by third parties-to construct these life-summaries," the letter states. This feature is problematic because "under the old regime, a user would have to 'click "Older Posts" at the bottom of the [profile] page ... [a]gain ... [a]nd again' in order to see anything dating back farther than a few weeks. With Timeline, all of this information is instantly available."
Another dubious practice developed by Facebook is known as "post-log-out tracking," which refers to the secret monitoring of the "Internet activity of users even after they have logged out of Facebook." It does this by placing "at least six cookies on a user's browser whenever the user visits Facebook."
One of these cookies, called the "a_user cookie" was the source of a "media firestorm" because it was discovered that it "continued to report back to Facebook until the user closed her browser completely." Facebook was subsequently forced to remove the cookie. However, the letter warns that "there is no technical reason ... why [the remaining cookies] could not be used to track a user's identity in a manner similar to the a_user cookie."
The letter concludes that these changes have made "options for users to preserve the privacy standards they have established" very "confusing, impractical, and unfair," and recommends that the FTC "investigate the extent of the harm to consumer privacy and safety caused by Facebook's secret tracking of the post-log-out activity of the company's users and by the adoption of frictionless sharing."
Other organizations besides the CMD and the ACLU that signed onto the letter include:
- American Library Association
- Bill of Rights Defense Committee
- Center for Digital Democracy
- Consumer Action
- Consumer Watchdog
- Privacy Times