Privacy watchdogs cry foul over Facebook policy changes

Instagram and email changes spark more than 17,000 comments

27 Nov 2012

Two privacy advocacy groups have urged Facebook to withdraw proposed changes to its terms of service that would allow the company to share user data with Instagram, eliminate a user voting system and loosen email restrictions within the social network.

The changes, which Facebook unveiled last week, raise privacy risks for users and overide the company's previous commitments to its billion members, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.

"Facebook's proposed changes implicate the user privacy and terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission," the groups said in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

By sharing information with Instagram, the letter said, Facebook could combine user profiles, ending its practice of keeping user information on the two services separate. Facebook declined to comment on the letter.

Facebook's proposed changes implicate the user privacy and terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission

In April, Facebook settled privacy charges with the US Federal Trade Commission that it had deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.

Facebook's latest proposed changes to its terms of service and data use polices include a move to scrap a four-year-old process that can allow the social network's billion users to vote on changes to its policies.

If proposed changes generate more than 7,000 public comments during a seven-day period, Facebook's current terms of service automatically trigger a vote by users to approve the changes. But the vote is only binding if at least 30% of users take part, and two prior votes never reached that threshold.

The latest proposed changes have already garnered more than 17,000 comments.

Facebook also said last week that it wanted to eliminate a setting for users to control who can contact them on the social network's email system. The company said it planned to replace the "Who can send you Facebook messages" setting with new filters for managing incoming messages.

That change is likely to increase the amount of unwanted "spam" messages that users receive, the privacy groups warned.

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