On December 17, 2009, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that Facebook is engaging in “unfair and deceptive trade practices” by changing its privacy policies. Notably, the changes allow anyone who browses the Internet to view a Facebook user’s name, profile picture, gender, geographic region and list of friends. Facebook has stated that it implemented these changes to make it easier to find individual users among the estimated 350 million Facebook users.
EPIC’s complaint, which was signed by nine other privacy organizations, alleges that Facebook’s privacy changes injure users by “invading their privacy; allowing for disclosure and use of information in ways and for purposes other than those consented to or relied upon by such users; causing them to believe falsely that they have full control over the use of their information; and undermining the ability of users to avail themselves of the privacy protections promised by the company.” EPIC’s complaint further alleges that Facebook’s claim that users “have extensive and precise controls available to choose who sees what among their network and friends, as well as tools that give them the choice to make a limited set of information available to search engines and other outside entities” is deceptive because “Facebook’s changes to users’ privacy settings and associated policies in fact categorize as ‘publicly available information’ users’ names, profile photos, lists of friends, pages they are fans of, gender, geographic regions, and networks to which they belong.”
EPIC is requesting the FTC compel Facebook to “restore its previous privacy settings” and “make its data collection practices clearer and more comprehensible and to give Facebook users meaningful control over personal information provided by Facebook to advertisers and developers.” In response to EPIC’s complaint, Facebook released a statement that the company had “discussed the privacy program with many regulators, including the FTC, prior to launch and expect to continue to work with them in the future.”