It's the latest set-back for social media behemoth, Facebook. After a rocky three months since its IPO where investors have seen shares fall by around 50%, a German advocacy group has accused the social network of violating privacy laws. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) has demanded that Facebook obtain an explicit consent before providing the private information of its users to any third-party applications.
Before installing any applications to their Facebook accounts, such as games or other media content, users are faced with a text box indicating that when they install the app, the third party which operates the app will receive personal information such as their basic account information and email address. Whilst the user's attention is drawn to this fact, the VZBV argues that this is not sufficient, that it does not provide an explicit consent for any sharing of personal information. The VZBV wants Facebook to take steps to ensure that the user is aware that he/she is providing personal information, and more specific detail about how the third party will use the personal information it obtains in the process.
In the US, the FTC recently recently investigated complaints from users that a changes to Facebook's privacy settings had resulted in user information being made public. A settlement was reached, the terms of which require Facebook to submit to twice-yearly audits to ensure it is meeting its privacy obligations, and for it to requrie explicit consents form users when sharing personal information. Specifically, Facebook has agreed to provide its users with "clear and prominent notice" of its intention to share their personal information.
These recent developments for Facebook are even more significant since today, Thursday September 13, it launches in the US and Europe its real-time bidding ad platform, Facebook Exchange, which provides a way for advertisers to target more relevant ads to users than simply using a blanket approach. This new technology will undoubtedly once again raise concerns over privacy and the protection of users' personal information in their use of the site.