Law Prof: Terms Of Facebook's Privacy Settlement Not Stringent Enough

Facebook's recent privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission isn't sitting well with everybody. UC Berkeley law professor Chris Hoofnagle, for one, thinks the terms aren't stringent enough.

“I write to argue that Facebook has engaged in a deliberate, unfair strategy to open profiles, and that as a result, the consent agreement does not place the victim class of millions of Americans into its expectancy position--the settings they had prior to Facebook's adjustment of them,” Hoofnagle says in written comments filed with the FTC.

The deal, announced last month, requires Facebook obtain users' express consent before sharing their information with a wider audience than in the past. The social networking service also agreed to prevent anyone from accessing deleted accounts within 30 days of deletion. Additionally, Facebook will institute a comprehensive privacy policy and submit to audits for 20 years.

The settlement, if approved, would resolve an FTC complaint alleging that Facebook deceived users by repeatedly sharing information that users believed would be private when uploaded. Among other instances, in December of 2009 Facebook reclassified a host of data about users as “public” -- including people's names, photos and friend lists.

Hoofnagle argues in written comments that Facebook's concessions aren't good enough. “Facebook's promise to not break the law again is illusory. It can't break the agreement, because Facebook has already opened up profiles to the maximum extent possible,” Hoofnagle writes. “It has won its battle to tilt the disclosure landscape towards publicity."

He says that Facebook should disgorge profits gleaned from publicizing users' information, and should  restore default settings in existence when users signed up for the service.

The comments are particularly notable because Hoofnagle is one of three people slated to serve on the board of directors of a new $6.5 million privacy foundation that Facebook said it would create to settle a lawsuit about another privacy debacle -- the Beacon program, which told users about their friends' purchases. The other two proposed board members are Facebook's director of public policy Tim Sparapani, and journalist and Internet safety advocate Larry Magid.

That foundation hasn't yet launched because the settlement's fate is up in the air. Privacy advocate Ginger McCall challenged the deal, arguing that Facebook will wield too much control over the organization. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering whether to allow the Beacon settlement to go forward.

Next story loading loading..