A World Tour of Facebook Privacy Complaints
Everytime it pushes boundaries, governments just shove right back
One little post from an Australian blogger is leading to some big problems for Facebook around the world. Last week, Nic Cubrilovic dug into the code of Facebook's cookies and found the social network continued to collect data on users even after they'd logged out. A Facebook engineer responded quickly explaining Facebook's cookie tracking in the comments Cubrilovic's post, and the company pushed an update a couple of days later that turned off the tracking. But the damage was already done. The revelation sparked a global firestorm of controversy, and it's not just about the cookies any more. Facebook is now dealing with a fresh batch of scrutiny over a host of new features on the site. Privacy advocates and lawmakers around the world are shouting louder than ever that Facebook has crossed the line too far this time and are calling for investigations into the company's privacy practices.
On Thursday, a group privacy advocates sent a 14-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission detailing Facebook's privacy violations and calling for a probe. Representatives from ten different consumer rights organizations co-signed the letter which urged the FTC to investigation "whether [recent changes to Facebook constitute unfair and deceptive trade practices, in violation of consumer protection law in the United States." Their letter comes just a couple days after two congressmen requested a similar investigation from the FTC. The commission has yet to respond.
Members of the Dutch parliament discussed the latest changes in the chamber on Friday, and a several called for changes to the law that would address Facebook privacy. "The website has been repeatedly linked to privacy violations," said MP Kees Verhoeven, calling on the prime minister to hold Facebook more accountable in the future. "I support the call for an investigation and will take action myself," said MP Braakhuis Bruno.
News also emerged on Friday that Irish officials are ramping up their scrutiny. The Financial Times reports that the Ireland's data protection commissioner is planning a "a detailed audit of the group's activities outside the US and Canada next month." Facebook's European headquarters are in Dublin. "This audit will examine the subject matter of the complaint," said commissioner Gary Davis but also will be more extensive and will seek to examine Facebook's compliance more generally with Irish data protection law."
Earlier this month, Facebook agreed to sign a voluntary code of conduct related to privacy in Germany. The move came after the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein's data protection commissioner ordered government employees to close down their Facebook pages and urged citizens "keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins" and "not set up a Facebook account." As we've reported in the past, Germany is waging a bit of a war on Facebook, largely due to the country's strict privacy protections that came after a troublesome history of spying from the Nazi and East German governments.
The U.K. Information Commissioner's Office and other European regulators looked into complaints over potential privacy invasions into Facebook's facial recognition features. Because the feature was opt-out, users complained that they weren't made well enough aware of the fact that Facebook would be scanning faces in uploaded photos and storing the data. The regulator said in June that it was "speaking to Facebook" about the new features, though they didn't lodge any formal complaints.
Facebook actually never really took off in Japan, some say, because the country values privacy and has shied away from Mark Zuckerberg's attitude about its obsolescence. "The dangers of too little privacy may be lost in the global Facebook fad, but it's likely to become a growing problem elsewhere," a hyper-private blogger who goes by Akky Akimoto told The New York Times in January. "The Internet in Japan has not been so closely connected with real society. Those other community sites can keep offering the joys of staying remote from real life."