FTC Closes LimeWire Privacy Probe Without Taking Action

In February, the Federal Trade Commission warned a host of businesses, local governments and schools that sensitive data about their employees and customers had ended up on on file-sharing networks. At the same time, the FTC said it was investigating individual companies to determine whether they exposed private data online, a potential violation of various federal laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Now the FTC has publicized the results of one investigation, that of peer-to-peer network, LimeWire. And the results are good news for the troubled company: The FTC closed its investigation without taking action.

The FTC said that one factor that led it to close the probe was that recent versions of LimeWire software incorporate mechanisms aimed at preventing the accidental sharing of personal documents. The agency added that it expects LimeWire "to continue to advise consumers to upgrade legacy versions of its software" and also "to participate in software industry efforts to inform consumers about how best to avoid the inadvertent sharing of sensitive documents."

While the FTC's move solves one of LimeWire's problems, the company still faces significant problems. Most pressing, a federal judge ruled recently that LimeWire is liable for inducing users to infringe on copyright.

The FTC's decision here makes sense. While people who use peer-to-peer networks can compromise others' privacy, so can those who use email, blogs, social networking sites and the like. In fact, any time an individual posts information online, the potential exists that someone's private data will be exposed.

The answer isn't to target the technology, but the companies and individuals who use particular platforms to broadcast private data. The FTC currently is considering complaints against Google, which arguably exposed some users' private contacts when it launched Buzz, and Facebook, which riled privacy advocates by launching "instant personalization" -- a program that tells Yelp, Microsoft Docs and Pandora the names of visitors who are signed in to Facebook at the time.

Those complaints certainly appear more valid than allegations that peer-to-peer companies violate people's privacy.

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2 comments about "FTC Closes LimeWire Privacy Probe Without Taking Action".
  1. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich , August 30, 2010 at 5:35 p.m.

    Once again, there is a massive failure to accept that the internet, by its very nature, is not "private." The notion that people want to take part in huge social networks yet demand privacy is clearly failing to cause enough cognitive dissonance to wake folks up to the fact that they are responsible for their own data. This is spectacularly true of networks such as Facebook, where the whole POINT of joining is to engage in open, social discourse. If you are concerned about private data getting into the "wrong" hands - whoever those hands belong to - then don't post. Or once again for the hard-of-thinking: DON'T POST!

    In the 60's and 70's (and even in 1948), science fiction stories positively bristled with worlds where people are subject to constant surveillance by authoritarian governments. And here we are in the 21st century where we have actually given in to constant surveillance by choice! We chose to have GPS in phones, use traceable ATMs rather than cash, provide our phone numbers to strangers at a checkout, post our private lives on Facebook, and blog about our most intimate details. And we CHOOSE to do it.

    Whatever happened to discretion?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 30, 2010 at 5:46 p.m.

    You are absolutely right Russell. We are going to be the sorriest generation in the history of the earth.