Privacy Groups Ready FTC Complaint Against Facebook
The digital civil rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center intends to file a complaint by January about both Facebook's new SocialAds and Beacon programs. The Center for Digital Democracy, which currently has a complaint pending at the FTC about behavioral targeting, also intends to pursue regulatory action against the company.
EPIC plans to protest both Facebook's SocialAds--which tells members which of their friends have signed on as "fans" of the advertisers-- and Beacon ads, which notifies members' friends about their off-site purchases.
The three-week-old programs mark Facebook's attempt to harness users on behalf of marketers, in effect turning members into word-of-mouth advertisers. And that's precisely why some advocates find the programs objectionable; they argue that Facebook is improperly pressing consumers into service on behalf of marketers.
"Part of what Facebook is doing is taking from people the value of their endorsements, which traditionally is something that people can be compensated for, and selling it back to their advertisers," says EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.
Currently, some states have privacy laws protecting people's right to control the public use of their image by marketers. In New York, for instance, there's a century-old law on the books banning advertisers from using people to endorse products without their written consent. Facebook has argued that people effectively give consent when they sign on as "fans" of particular marketers, but it's not clear that courts would agree.
Facebook unveiled the new ad platforms to great fanfare earlier this month, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the program would usher in a new era for media. "The next 100 years starts today," he said at the time.
A roster of more than 40 marketers signed on as advertisers, including online ticketer Travelocity, shoe seller Zappos, and retailer Overstock.com. But consumer and privacy advocates saw problems with the platforms the get-go. Within days of the launch, the Center for Digital Democracy and US Public Interest Research Group sent a letter to FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras protesting Facebook's new ad programs as well as an expanded behavioral targeting effort on MySpace.
The activist group MoveOn.org also is campaigning against Facebook's Beacon program, which publicizes information about people's purchases to their friends. While users can opt-out of sharing such information --either at the point-of-purchase or on Facebook itself--MoveOn says the program should be opt-in only, to ensure that members have explicitly consented. Last week, MoveOn started a Facebook group "Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!" which had drawn more than 28,000 members by Tuesday.