The charges apparently stemmed from a 2009 report that Myspace (and other companies) leak users' personal information to advertisers by including it in the HTTP header information that is automatically sent to ad networks.
In Myspace's case, the company transmitted users' age, gender and "FriendID" to ad networks via referrer headers, according to the FTC. Advertisers were then able to use the FriendID to access users' profile information, which included the full names of around 84% of Myspace users, the FTC alleges.
The FTC says in its complaint that starting in 2009, Myspace automatically sent users' FriendIDs to its Fox Audience Network, which in turn often transmitted the information -- in clear text -- to third-party advertisers it worked with. In June of 2010 it began encrypting the data, but provided the key to Fox Audience Network, according to the FTC.
After Rubicon Project purchased Fox Audience Network in October of 2010, Myspace allegedly provided the encryption key to Rubicon -- which had no relationship with the social networking company. That arrangement lasted through October of 2011, according to the FTC's complaint, which was unveiled on Tuesday along with the settlement agreement,
The upshot was that "a third-party advertiser could take simple steps to get detailed information about individual users," the FTC alleges. For instance, advertisers could use FriendID to visit users' Myspace pages and obtain their real names. Advertisers also could "combine the user’s real name and other personal information with that advertiser’s tracking cookie and the history of websites the user has visited that it contains," the FTC says in its complaint.
Specific Media, which now owns Myspace, said in a statement that one of its first moves after acquiring the company last June "was to thoroughly examine the company’s business practices and, where applicable, make improvements."
The company added: "In order to put any questions regarding Myspace’s pre-acquisition advertising practices behind us, Myspace has reached an agreement with the FTC that makes a formal commitment to our community to accurately disclose how their information is used and shared."