In re: Facebook, Inc. Internet Tracking Litigation
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- EPIC v. FTC: EPIC Obtains Facebook-FTC Emails About 2011 Consent Order » (Oct. 19, 2018)
In response to EPIC's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the FTC has released agency emails about the 2011 Facebook Consent Order. Following a detailed complaint by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations, the FTC issued an order in 2011 that required biennial audits of Facebook's privacy practices. EPIC pursued public release of these reports and related emails to understand why the FTC failed to bring an enforcement action action against the company. Today the FTC released to EPIC 89 emails between the FTC and Facebook from the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In March 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica data breach, the FTC announced it was reopening the Facebook investigation. To date, there is still no announcement, no report, and no fine.
- EPIC v. FTC: EPIC Obtains Emails about Facebook Audits » (Oct. 15, 2018)
In response to EPIC's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the FTC has released communications about Facebook's biennial audits. The audits are required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook, which followed a detailed complaint by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations. The emails show that the FTC had concerns about the scope of Facebook's 2015 assessment, stating "PwC's report does not demonstrate whether and how Facebook addressed the impact of acquisitions on its Privacy Program." In other email, the FTC expressed similar concerns about the 2017 assessment and whether the audit evaluated the company's acquisitions impact on Facebook's privacy program. EPIC had previously opposed Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and submitted detailed comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. In March 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica breach, the FTC announced it was reopening the Facebook investigation, but still there is no announcement, no report, and no fine.
- Consumer and Privacy Organizations Propose Framework for U.S. Data Protection » (Oct. 9, 2018)
EPIC joined a group of twelve consumer and privacy organizations that submitted a statement to the Senate Commerce Committee in advance of a consumer privacy hearing. The groups outlined a draft framework for data protection in the U.S., advocating that Congress (1) enact baseline federal data protection legislation; (2) limit government access to personal data; (3) establish algorithmic transparency and end discriminatory profiling; (4) prohibit “take it or leave it” and other unfair terms; (5) ensure robust enforcement; (6) promote privacy innovation; and (7) establish a data protection agency. EPIC also submitted a statement to the Committee that highlighted recent breaches at Google and Facebook and the FTC's failure to enforce its own consent orders.
- FTC to Explore Competition and Consumer Protection Issues at Hearings this Week » (Sep. 12, 2018)
The FTC is holding a hearing this week to examine the regulation of consumer data, the consumer welfare standard in antitrust law, and vertical mergers. This is the first in a series of hearings on "Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century" that will examine how changes in the economy affect the FTC's enforcement priorities. EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups submitted extensive comments for the hearings. EPIC and the groups said that privacy protection is critical for competition and innovation. EPIC and the groups told the FTC that it should: 1) unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp deal; 2) require Facebook and Google to spin off their advertising units; 3) block future acquisitions by Facebook and Google that would extend monopoly control over consumer data; 4) impose privacy safeguards for all mergers that implicate data privacy; and 5) perform audits of algorithmic tools to promote accountability and to limit anticompetitive conduct. The FTC reopened the investigation of Facebook in March after EPIC and consumer groups filed a formal complaint, but has still taken no action. The UK Information Commissioner completed its initial investigation, published a report, and issued a substantial fine in July.
- EPIC FOIA: EPIC Obtains Facebook Privacy Documents » (Sep. 12, 2018)
In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission has released supplemental materials from the biennial Facebook audits (production 1, production 2, production 3, production 4). The audits were required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The documents include letters from the FTC to Facebook inquiring about Facebook's relationship with Instagram and telling the company that "whenever a corporate change such as an acquisition may affect the design and/or implementation of the Company's privacy program, the Company must notify the Commission." EPIC opposed Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and submitted comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. FTC reopened its investigation into Facebook in March after EPIC, consumer groups urged action. The UK Information Commissioner completed its initial investigation, published report, and issued a fine in July. The FTC begins hearings this week on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century.
- FTC Chair Seeks New Privacy and Data Security Authority » (Jul. 18, 2018)
In testimony this morning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, new Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons said the FTC needs greater authority to protect consumers. Simons asserted that privacy and data security are now the top priority for the FTC, and signaled his support for data protection legislation that would accomplish three things: (1) provide civil penalties for companies that violated the law, (2) give the FTC jurisdiction over nonprofits and common carriers, and (3) provide the FTC with rulemaking authority for privacy and data security. EPIC submitted a statement prior to today's hearing emphasizing that the FTC must conclude its investigation of Facebook and issue a fine for its violations of the 2011 Consent Order and unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp deal.
- For House Hearing, EPIC Urges FTC to Unwind WhatsApp Deal, Enforce Facebook Consent Order » (Jul. 17, 2018)
EPIC has sent a statement to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in advance of a hearing on “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission.” EPIC told the Committee to urge the new FTC leadership to enforce the Facebook Consent Order and unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp merger As EPIC previously told Congress, the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided if the FTC had enforced its 2011 Consent Order against Facebook. That Order was the result of detailed complaints filed by EPIC and consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In 2014, EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy urged the FTC to block Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp unless appropriate privacy safeguards were put in place. In 2016, EPIC and CDD filed a second complaint after Facebook broke its privacy promises and began collecting WhatsApp users' data.
- EPIC Asks FTC and EDPB to Suspend Transfer of Facebook User Data to Social Science One » (Jul. 13, 2018)
EPIC has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the European Data Protection Board urging the suspension of a proposed study that will disclose user data to third parties without their consent. EPIC warned that the Social Science One project transfer likely violates the GDPR, as well as the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook, which bars Facebook from disclosing data to third parties without users' affirmative consent. The FTC announced in April that Facebook is under investigation over the transfer of personal data to Cambridge Analytica, a research organization affiliated with a prestigious university. In 2012, Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on its users by secretly manipulating their news feeds to examine the effects of social media on user emotions. The study was suspended after objections from EPIC, professional societies, and others. The Guardian reported that the "lack of 'informed consent' means that Facebook experiment on nearly 700,000 news feeds broke rules on tests on human subjects."
- EPIC to European Data Protection Board: GDPR Certifications Should Uphold Rights Above Privacy Seals » (Jul. 12, 2018)
In the first public consultation held by the European Data Protection Board, EPIC proposed a rights-based certification criteria for the General Data Protection Regulation. The Data Protection Board is now the lead privacy agency in Europe. EPIC explained the risks of self-regulatory certification mechanisms, pointing to TRUSTe and the Facebook audits obtained by EPIC that wrongly certified Facebook's compliance with the 2011 FTC Consent Order. EPIC said, certification mechanisms "must be developed by national DPAs and implemented in conformity with the fundamental principles and rights of the GDPR." EPIC has also advised the UK Information Commissioner's Office and the Irish Data Protection Commissioner on GDPR enforcement.
- UK Data Watchdog Fines Facebook Maximum £500,000 for Cambridge Analytica Breach » (Jul. 11, 2018)
The Information Commissioner's Office, the lead agency for data protection in England, has issued the maximum £500,000 fine on Facebook for failing to secure user data from Cambridge Analytica. ICO investigations found that Cambridge Analytica harvested 87 million Facebook users' personal data to target ads for political purposes, and that Facebook did not compel the deletion of this data to prevent further misuses. Facebook was charged with two violations of the UK Data Protection Act 1998: "failing to safeguard people's information [and] failing to be transparent about how people's data was harvested by others and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign." ICO also told other companies that served online political ads during the EU Brexit Referendum to stop processing UK citizens' data. In March and April, EPIC told the FTC and Congress that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been prevented if the FTC had enforced the 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The FTC is currently investigating Facebook but has never imposed any fines against the company.
- FTC Announces Another Privacy Settlement, But Again Imposes No Penalties » (Jul. 2, 2018)
The FTC announced today that it settled charges with ReadyTech, a California company, for misrepresenting compliance with Privacy Shield, a self-certification arrangement that allows US companies to obtain the personal data of Europeans. The FTC settlement prohibits the company from making future misrepresentations about Privacy Shield compliance, but imposes no penalties and provides no remedy to European consumers whose personal data was wrongfully obtained. Last year, the FTC settled charges with three companies that misrepresented their participation in Privacy Shield, but similarly failed to impose penalties. The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee ("LIBE") recently passed a resolution stating that Privacy Shield does not protect European consumers, and called for its suspension if the U.S. does not comply by September 1, 2018. LIBE specifically called attention to the Cambridge Analytica breach of 87 million Facebook users. In March, EPIC told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been prevented if the FTC had enforced its 2011 Consent Order with Facebook.
- Facebook's Response to Congress Provides More Evidence of Consent Order Violations » (Jul. 2, 2018)
Late Friday afternoon, Facebook submitted over 700 pages of responses to questions from members of Congress following Mark Zuckerberg's testimony in April. Facebook has now admitted that it provided developers and device makers access to personal data despite publicly stating that it had discontinued the practice. In April EPIC submitted a detailed letter to Congress, explaining that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided if the FTC had enforced the 2011 Consent Order. That Consent Order was the result of extensive complaints EPIC and consumer organizations filed with the FTC in 2009 and 2010. In March, the Acting Director of the FTC stated "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook." In a recent memo, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra stated that "FTC orders are not suggestions."
- EPIC Urges Appeals Court to Protect Consumers Against Invasive Cookie Tracking Practices » (Jun. 27, 2018)
EPIC has filed an amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in In re: Facebook, Inc. Internet Tracking Litigation. At issue is whether Facebook violated the privacy rights of users by tracking their web browsing even after they logged out of the platform. EPIC explained that cookies "no longer serve the interests of users" and instead "tag, track, and monitor users across the Internet." EPIC said a lower court wrongly concluded that users should develop countermeasures to assert their privacy rights. EPIC responded that it would be absurd to expect users to compete in a "technical arms race" when "Facebook's tracking techniques are designed to escape detection and the company routinely ignores users' privacy protections." EPIC first identified the privacy risks of cookie tracking in a 1997 report "Surfer Beware: Personal Privacy and the Internet." EPIC frequently participates as amicus curiae in consumer privacy cases, including hiQ Labs v. LinkedIn and Eichenberger v. ESPN.
- In EPIC FOIA Case, FTC Releases New Information from Facebook Audits » (Jun. 26, 2018)
In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission today released materials, previously withheld, from the biennial Facebook audits. The audits were required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. Heavily redacted versions of those audits were previously available on the FTC's website. But in March, following the Cambridge Analytica breach, EPIC filed an urgent FOIA request for the complete 2013, 2015, 2017 Facebook audits. (The 2017 audit covers the period the Cambridge Analytica breach.) In a detailed letter to Congress in April, EPIC explained that the FTC failed to review the reports and failed to enforce the 2011 consent order against Facebook. The documents released today to EPIC contain information that was not previously available to the public. EPIC is currently reviewing the documents obtained from the FTC.
- At Senate Hearing, Former FTC CTO States That Facebook Violated FTC Consent Order » (Jun. 19, 2018)
In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today on Facebook and data privacy, former FTC CTO Ashkan Soltani stated that Facebook violated the 2011 FTC Consent Order by transferring personal data to Cambridge Analytica and device makers contrary to user privacy expectations. Soltani said that Facebook continued to misrepresent the extent to which users could control their privacy settings and allowed device makers to override users' privacy settings. Senator Blumenthal and other members of Congress had previously said the company violated the Consent Order, which was the result of complaints filed by EPIC in 2009 and 2010. In a statement to the Committee in advance of the hearing, EPIC urged the Senate to focus on the FTC's failure to enforce the Consent Order with Facebook.
- EPIC Urges Senate Committee to Focus on Consent Order with Facebook » (Jun. 19, 2018)
EPIC has sent a statement to the Senate Commerce Committee outlining the FTC's failure to enforce the 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The statement from EPIC is for a hearing on "Cambridge Analytica and Other Facebook Partners: Examining Data Privacy Risks." In 2009, EPIC and several consumer groups pursued a complaint, containing detailed evidence, legal theories, and proposed remedies to address growing concerns about Facebook's data practices. The FTC established a Consent Order in 2011, but failed to enforce the Order even after EPIC sued the agency in a related matter. In the statement to the Senate this week, EPIC contends that the FTC could have prevented the Cambridge Analytica debacle and Facebook's secret arrangements with device makers if the agency enforced the 2011 Order.
- European Civil Liberties Committee: 'Privacy Shield' Should Be Suspended » (Jun. 12, 2018)
Members of European Parliament are calling for the suspension of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield if the U.S. does not comply in full by September 1, 2018. The Civil Liberties Committee ("LIBE") passed a resolution stating that the pact, which permits the flow of European consumers' personal data to the U.S, does not adequately protect privacy. LIBE urged US authorities to respond without delay to the Cambridge Analytica breach of 87 million Facebook users. The groups also expressed "strong concerns" about the CLOUD Act which permits US law enforcement to unilaterally access personal data stored in Europe. EPIC recently told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided had the agency enforced a 2011 Consent Order that EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy groups obtained.
- Facebook Denied Attempt to Delay Review of EU-US Personal Data Transfers » (May. 3, 2018)
The Irish High Court has denied Facebook's request to halt review of Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebookby Europe's top court. The case, which was recently referred to the European Court of Justice, concerns whether Facebook's transfers of personal data from Ireland to the United States violate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The case follows the landmark 2015 decision that the US had insufficient privacy protections to allow transfer of Europeans' personal data. Ruling against Facebook's request to delay the case further pending appeal, the Irish court said EU data subjects could be harmed if the case were delayed, and that there were “considerable concerns” about Facebook's conduct in the case. EPIC was designated the US NGO amicus curiae in this case, and provided a detailed assessment of US privacy law.
- EPIC, Coalition Call On Facebook to Stop Electioneering » (Mar. 28, 2018)
EPIC joined Consumer Watchdog and a coalition of consumer organizations to urge Facebook to cease all campaign contributions and electioneering activity. The groups also recommended that Facebook retain Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center to audit Facebook's use of personal information for election advertisements. Last week, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook. EPIC has also urged the Federal Election Commission to provide transparency for online political ads. EPIC is fully engaged in protecting the integrity of elections with its Project on Democracy and Cybersecurity.
- State AGs Launch Facebook Investigation » (Mar. 26, 2018)
A bipartisan group of 37 State Attorneys General is investigating Facebook's business practices and lack of privacy protections. "Businesses like Facebook must comply with the law when it comes to how they use their customers' personal data," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. "State Attorneys General have an important role to play in holding them accountable." The Federal Trade Commission also announced today that it is investigating Facebook. Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley has also said there will be hearings on the Facebook matter when Congress returns.
- U.K. Blocks WhatsApp From Transferring Data to Facebook » (Mar. 14, 2018)
U.K. privacy officials have blocked WhatApp from transferring personal data to Facebook until the company complies with the GDPR, the new European privacy law. The Information Commissioner's Office found that WhatsApp's proposed data transfer would have violated the U.K. Data Protection Act. "People have a right to have their personal data kept safe," explained Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a blog post. EPIC has twice urged the FTC to block WhatsApp's transfer of personal data to Facebook, but the FTC has failed to act. The FTC approved Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 after both companies assured the Commission and the public that they would protect users' privacy, but in 2016 WhatsApp announced that it would begin transferring the names and phone numbers of its users to Facebook. France blocked the data transfer and the EU fined Facebook $122 million for misleading European authorities about the data transfer.
- Axios Poll: Public Wants Big Tech Regulated » (Feb. 28, 2018)
A new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll found that 55% of Americans believe the government should do more to regulate tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The poll showed bipartisan support for increased regulation, with 45% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats, and 57% of Independents saying they are "more concerned" that the government will not go far enough to regulate tech. EPIC maintains an extensive page on Privacy and Public Opinion which shows consistent support among Americans for stronger laws to protect their privacy. EPIC has also opposed mergers that threaten consumer privacy, including Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, and Google's acquisition of Nest Labs.
- EPIC Challenges Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Feb. 2, 2018)
EPIC has filed an amicus brief with a federal appeals court urging the court to reject a proposed class action settlement over Facebook's practice of scanning private messages. EPIC challenged the settlement because it did not require Facebook to stop scanning private messages. In fact, the company can continue scanning messages by simply burying a notice on its website. Also, there was no compensation to Internet users for the prior violation of federal and state laws. EPIC is dedicated to class action fairness in privacy cases and has objected to many similar settlements that failed to provide actual benefits to Internet users. EPIC recently opposed a settlement with Google that allows the company to continue tracking web users. EPIC also opposed a settlement with Facebook in 2014 that allowed the company to continue an unlawful practice.
- EPIC Joins Consumer and Health Groups, Urges Facebook to Scrap 'Messenger Kids' » (Jan. 30, 2018)
EPIC, the Center for Commercial Free Childhood, and others have urged Mark Zuckerberg to shutter Facebook's "Messenger Kids" app. The groups cited rising concern about social media among adolescents and wrote it is irresponsible to encourage preschoolers to use Facebook products. Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have questioned Facebook about the Messenger Kids app. EPIC recently backed a campaign that led Mattel to cancel a device that spies on young children. EPIC also led efforts to require Facebook to respect the privacy rights of WhatsApp users.
- European Court of Justice Grants Standing to Privacy Advocate But Bars Class Action under Austrian Law » (Jan. 30, 2018)
The Court of Justice of the European Union, following an advisory opinion, has determined that Max Schrem's class action in Austria cannot proceed against Facebook, but individual privacy claims can. The Court granted Schrems standing, recognizing that "the activities of publishing books, giving lectures, operating websites," and similar activities does not entail the loss of "a user's status as a 'consumer.'" However, the Court found that "the consumer forum cannot be invoked" in "claims assigned by other consumers." The class action of 25,000 consumers brought by Austrian privacy activist and EPIC Advisory Board member Max Schrems alleges that Facebook violated Europeans' privacy rights, including for transferring data to the U.S. intelligence community. Max Schrems recently launched NYOB to pursue class actions under the General Data Protection Regulation. In 2013, Max Schrems received the EPIC International Champion of Freedom Award.
- European Court Adviser Says Facebook Privacy Class Action Barred » (Nov. 15, 2017)
The opinion of a key adviser to the European Court of Justice holds that a class action cannot proceed against Facebook, but would permit individual privacy claims to move forward. The class action of 25,000 consumers brought by Austrian privacy activist and EPIC Advisory Board member Max Schrems alleges Facebook violated Europeans' privacy rights, including for transferring data to the U.S. intelligence community. The opinion from Advocate General Bobek said a "consumer cannot invoke, at the same time as his own claims, claims on the same subject assigned by other consumers," citing the risk of consumers shopping for the most favorable forums. The European Court of Justice typically adopts the opinions of the Advocate General. The Court of Justice will also consider DPC v. Facebook, involving whether Facebook's data transfers from Ireland to the U.S. violate European Fundamental Rights. In 2013, Max Schrems received the EPIC International Champion of Freedom Award.
- European Privacy Experts Press WhatsApp on Data Practices » (Oct. 27, 2017)
The Article 29 Working Party, a group of European privacy experts, warned WhatsApp that it is still not complying with data protection law. Following Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, WhatsApp transferred users' personal data to Facebook, violating past privacy promises. In a letter to WhatsApp, Article 29 said "the information presented to users was seriously deficient as a means to inform their consent," and a WhatsApp must promptly establish "clear, comprehensive resolution." Backed by over a dozen US consumer groups, in 2016 EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC urging the agency to block Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp if privacy safeguards were not put in place. The FTC wrote to both companies, explaining that their failure to honor privacy obligations could violate U.S. law.
- EPIC Urges FTC To Strengthen Privacy Settlement With Uber » (Sep. 15, 2017)
In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC urged the FTC to strengthen a proposed settlement with Uber. The FTC's investigation and subsequent settlement was prompted by EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. EPIC recommended that the FTC require Uber to end collection of customer data beyond what is necessary to provide the service and to mandate that Uber implement stronger privacy safeguards. As EPIC highlighted in the original complaint, Uber has a history of abusing consumer privacy. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC is obligated to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement.
- EPIC Urges Public Comments on FTC Settlement with Uber » (Sep. 6, 2017)
EPIC is urging the public to comment on the proposed FTC settlement with Uber regarding consumer privacy. (Federal Register Notice). The FTC settlement follows EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. The proposed settlement requires regular privacy audits of Uber by third parties but fails to make substantial changes in the companies business practices or require the company to delete the personal data that was wrongfully obtained. The deadline to file a comment with the FTC is September 15, 2017. The FTC is required to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC also recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
- Following EPIC Complaint, Uber Agrees To Stop Tracking Riders » (Aug. 29, 2017)
Uber has ended the practice of tracking customers before and after they are picked up. In 2015, Uber announced the company would track the location of riders from the time they ordered a ride until after they had reached their destination. EPIC promptly filed a complaint with the FTC and stated that "This collection of user's information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service." The end to Uber's tracking of riders comes two weeks after Uber entered into a consent agreement with the FTC following a complaint filed EPIC that highlighted Uber's history of misusing customer data. But EPIC said the FTC settlement does not go far enough. "The FTC should have imposed stronger sanctions on Uber, required the company to disgorge the personal data it had unlawfully obtained, and required the company to restore the original privacy settings," said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
- News Report: FTC to Act on EPIC's Uber Complaint » (Jun. 15, 2017)
According to news reports, the FTC is pursuing EPIC's privacy complaint regarding Uber. In 2015, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details was an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cited Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission should act. EPIC has previously pursued successful FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC complaints typically lead to settlements following a change in business practices. EPIC has also recommended comprehensive privacy legislation for Uber.
- European Privacy Officials Raise Concerns About US Immigration Executive Order » (Feb. 22, 2017)
The Article 29 Working Party, an expert group of European privacy officials, has raised concerns over a provision in the immigration Executive Order that would limit Privacy Act protections. The Working Party is seeking assurance from the US that the change will not threaten the privacy rights of non-US citizens established in the "Privacy Shield" and the Umbrella Agreement. EPIC is currently participating in Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook, a case following a landmark decision that found insufficient legal protections for the transfer of European consumer data to the US.
- UK Information Commissioner Suspends WhatsApp Data Transfer to Facebook » (Nov. 8, 2016)
Facebook has agreed to suspend targeted advertising for UKWhatsApp users. The decision follows an investigation by UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. "I don't think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information," Denham stated. WhatsApp announced in August that it would transfer its users verified phone numbers to Facebook in violation of previous privacy promises. EPIC then filed a complaint with the FTC and more than a dozen US consumer groups backed the efforts. Then European Union privacy officials and officials in Spain, Germany, India, and Italy opened investigations. Back in the US, the Commission said it will "carefully review" EPIC's complaint. The FTC has previously stated, "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises."
- Supreme Court Won't Review Privacy Violations by Facebook, Google » (Oct. 4, 2016)
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review two important consumer privacy cases: K.D. v. Facebook, a suit challenging Facebook’s use of young childrens’ names and images in advertising without consent, and Gourley v. Google, a suit opposing Google’s covert use of web cookies to track browsing habits. In K.D., consumers urged the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit opinion, which upheld a controversial settlement. EPIC filed an amicus brief in a companion case, Fraley v. Facebook, explaining that a settlement is unfair that allows a company to continue to engage in privacy violations. In Gourley, consumers asked the Court to overrule a Third Circuit decision holding that Google's exploitation of browser privacy loopholes did not violate the Wiretap Act or Stored Communications Act.
- EPIC, CDD Charge WhatsApp Policy Change Unlawful, Urge FTC to Act » (Aug. 29, 2016)
EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy have filed a complaint with the FTC concerning WhatsApp’s plan to transfer user data, including personal phone numbers, to Facebook. This reversal contradicts WhatsApp’s previous promises to users that their personal information would not be disclosed and would not be used for marketing purposes. EPIC said that WhatsApp change in business practices is unlawful and that the FTC is obligated to act. EPIC previously filed a complaint with the FTC over Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014. In response, the FTC warned the two companies they must honor their privacy promises to users. The FTC has said "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises."
- Facebook to Collect WhatsApp User Data, Violating FTC Order and Privacy Promises » (Aug. 25, 2016)
WhatsApp has announced plans to disclose user information to Facebook, including phone numbers and other user data, that will be connected with Facebook profiles. Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014, and the companies promised users of the privacy-protective messaging service that “nothing” will change for WhatsApp users' privacy. EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over the deal, and the FTC responded by warning the two companies that they must honor their privacy promises to WhatsApp users. The letter explained that failure to obtain users' opt-in consent before changing data practices would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice and violate Facebook’s FTC Consent Order. WhatsApp’s recent announcement indicates users will have 30 days to opt-out of data transfers to Facebook, in violation of the law and the FTC’s Order. In 2012, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations also led a successful effort at the FTC after Facebook changed the privacy settings of its users. As a result, Facebook is subject to an FTC consent order.
- Federal Court Upholds Photo Tagging Suit Against Facebook » (May. 8, 2016)
A federal judge has rejected Facebook's argument that the company did not violate an Illinois law that requires companies to obtain consent from consumers before collecting biometric data such as a "faceprint." Describing the biometric privacy law, the court said that Facebook's position was "antithetical to its broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology." In 2011, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that the facial identification of users was an unfair and deceptive trade practice. In 2012, EPIC urged the FTC to suspend facial recognition "until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established." Canada and Europe have since required Facebook to suspend the use of photo tagging.
- Court Upholds Facebook Settlement, Allows Continued Use of Kids' Images in Ads » (Jan. 14, 2016)
A federal appeals court has upheld a 2013 settlement agreement in Fraley v. Facebook, a consumer privacy class action involving Facebook's use of young children's names and images for advertising without consent. That practice is currently prohibited in seven states. Questions were also raised about the cy pres determinations. In dissent, Judge Bea stated that the "district court abused its discretion in approving the final settlement." In an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit, EPIC urged the appeals court to overturn the deal, explaining that the settlement is unfair to class members and authorizes continued privacy violations. In 2010, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations filed an extensive complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that eventually required Facebook to improve its privacy practices.
- FTC Issues Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptive "Native" Advertising » (Dec. 22, 2015)
The FTC has issued an enforcement policy statement on the use of "native" advertisements and other deceptive advertising that appear to be non-advertising content. The FTC's statement affirmed that ads must clearly be identifiable to consumers as advertising and not editorial content. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Fraley v. Facebook objecting to Facebook's "Sponsored Stories" that implied the user endorsed the brand to their friends. EPIC's prior complaint to the FTC regarding Facebook's privacy practices helped establish privacy rules for the social media network.
- European Court of Justice Hears Case Challenging "Safe Harbor" Agreement and NSA Spying » (Mar. 24, 2015)
The Court of Justice for the European Union heard arguments this week in Maximilian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, a case filed in Ireland following the revelations of the NSA PRISM program. At issue is whether the disclosure of EU citizens' data by Facebook and other Internet companies to the NSA violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and whether the EU-US "Safe Harbor" agreement provides "adequate" data protection. A decision is likely later this year. Schrems is the recipient of the 2013 EPIC International Privacy Champion Award.
- EPIC Files Comments with FTC on Merger Review and Consumer Privacy » (Mar. 18, 2015)
EPIC, along with 26 technical experts and legal scholars, has submitted extensive comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. EPIC urged the Commission to consider the privacy risks to consumers that result from the merger of big data firms. The comments detailed EPIC's efforts, over 15 years, to warn the FTC about such mergers as Abacus and DoubleClick, then DoubleClick and Google, AOL and Time Warner, and most recently Facebook and WhatsApp. EPIC urged the FTC to asses both competitive and privacy impacts of merger, and to enforce privacy commitments prior to granting merger approval.
Facebook has modified its privacy and data use policies, effective January 1, 2015. Facebook will now allow advertisers to include a “buy” button directly on targeted advertisements on a user’s page. Facebook will also allow advertisers to use the location data gathered from tools like “Nearby Friends” and location "check-ins” to push geolocation-based targeted advertisements. For instance, a Facebook user who checks in near a restaurant that partners with Facebook may now be shown menu items from that restaurant. Last month, the Dutch data protection commission announced that it planned to open an investigation into Facebook’s policy modifications. In July 2014, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy groups urged the FTC to halt Facebook’s plan to collect web-browsing information from its users. Facebook is already under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy. The consent decree resulted from complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy; and EPIC: FTC.
- Post-Snowden, Social Media Users Concerned About Access to Personal Data » (Nov. 13, 2014)
According to the Pew Research Report "Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era," most users of social media are very concerned about businesses and government accessing their personal data. 80% of adults "agree" or "strongly agree" that Americans should be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and internet communications. 64% believe there should be more regulation of advertisers. Almost all users rank their social security number as the most sensitive piece of personal data. EPIC has asked the House Committee on Homeland Security to suspend a DHS program that is monitoring social networks and media organizations. EPIC has recommended that the FTC to establish privacy protections for online advertising. EPIC has also urged the US Congress over many years to limit the use of the Social Security Number for commercial purposes. For more information, see EPIC: Public Opinion on Privacy, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Social Media Monitoring, and EPIC: Social Security Numbers.
- European Facebook Users Privacy Lawsuit Moves Forward » (Aug. 26, 2014)
A group of over 25,000 European Facebook users may proceed with their lawsuit against Facebook. The users, led by privacy activist Max Schrems, sued Facebook in a court in Vienna. The users charge Facebook with violating EU privacy law by improperly handling users' data. Now that the court has approved the class action suit, Facebook must respond to the complaints. In 2011, Schrems brought a similar lawsuit against Facebook in an Irish court. In the same year, Facebook signed a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission, following a complaint filed by EPIC and a group of American consumer privacy organizations. EPIC has also filed an amicus brief in a federal class action lawsuit, opposing Facebook's use of children's images for advertising purposes. In 2013, EPIC gave the International Privacy Champion Award to Max Schrems, calling him "an innovative and effective spokesperson for the right to privacy." For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
- EPIC, Consumer Groups Challenge Facebook on Web Snooping » (Jul. 29, 2014)
EPIC, along with a coalition of consumer groups, has urged the Federal Trade Commission to block Facebook's plan to collect users' web browsing history. Facebook recently announced plans to collect user data from sites all over the web. But the practice may violate a Federal Trade Commission order prohibiting Facebook from changing its business practices without users' express consent. The groups asked the FTC "to act immediately to notify the company that it must suspend its proposed change in business practices to determine whether it complies with current U.S. and EU law." EPIC has also filed a FOIA request, seeking the FTC's communications with Facebook about this change. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Privacy, and EPIC: FTC.
- Following EPIC Complaint, Senator Seeks Investigation of Facebook User Manipulation Study » (Jul. 17, 2014)
Senator Mark Warner has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the legality of Facebook's emotional manipulation study. In a letter to the Commission, Senator Warner stated that "it is not clear whether Facebook users were adequately informed and given an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out." He asked the FTC to conduct an investigation to see "if this 2012 experiment violated Section 5 of the FTC Act or the 2011 consent agreement with Facebook," two issues raised in EPIC's earlier complaint. "The company purposefully messed with people's minds," wrote EPIC in a complaint to the Commission. EPIC charged that Facebook violated a consent decree that required the company to respect user privacy and also engaged in a deceptive trade practice. EPIC has asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook (Psychological Study), and EPIC: FTC.
- FTC Releases 2014 Data Security Update, But Enforcement Questions Remain » (Jul. 1, 2014)
The Federal Trade Commission has released the 2014 Privacy and Data Security Update. The report is "an overview of the FTC's enforcement, policy initiatives, and consumer outreach and business guidance in the areas of privacy and data security." In the report, the FTC explains that "If a company violates an FTC order, the FTC can seek civil monetary penalties for the violations." However, the FTC has consistently failed to enforce consent orders with Google, Facebook, and other companies that have engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices. The Commission has also failed to modify proposed settlement agreements after seeking public comment. For more information, see EPIC: FTC, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: In re: Google Buzz.
- Facebook to Profile User Browsing, May Violate FTC Consent Order » (Jun. 12, 2014)
Facebook has announced that it will collect detailed browser history on users for advertising purposes. Users who object were told to opt-out. The plan may violate a Federal Trade Commission order, prohibiting Facebook from changing its business practices without users’ express consent. The FTC order follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In issuing the order, the FTC found that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." A recent Consumer Reports poll found that consumers overwhelmingly object to having their online activities tracked for advertising purposes. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement, EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling, and EPIC: Practical Privacy Tools.
- Privacy Case Moves Forward Against Facebook and Zynga » (May. 9, 2014)
The Ninth Circuit found that the companies may have violated Facebook's privacy policies when they disclosed user information for advertising purposes. Separately, the court ruled that there was no violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act because the data disclosed (including Facebook IDs and HTTP referers) is not "contents" of a communication. Congress is set to consider several ECPA reforms, and could fix the court's ruling by making clear that the law prevents the disclosure of personally identifiable information. For more information, see EPIC: Electronic Communications Privacy Act and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Introduces New Privacy Features » (May. 1, 2014)
Amidst growing concern about Facebook's disclosure of user information to third parties, the company has announced two new privacy options. Users may now decide how much of their information to disclose to Facebook apps before signing up. Users may also test apps anonymously - without transmitting the Facebook User ID to the developer. The changes appear to be a response to the 2011 Consent Order, pursued by EPIC and a coalition of privacy organization, that requires the company to obtain express affirmative consent from users before disclosing personal information to third parties. In the first report on Internet privacy, "Surfer Beware: Personal Privacy and the Internet" (1997), EPIC said web sites should "support anonymity while developing policies and practices to protect information privacy." For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Internet Anonymity, and EPIC: FTC.
- Facebook Removes Crucial Privacy Setting for Users’ Names » (Oct. 11, 2013)
Facebook has begun removing a privacy setting that allowed users to opt-out from their name being included in its “Graph Search” feature. All users, even those who had previously decided to remove their name from searches, will now be included in Graph Search results. Facebook is currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires express affirmative consent from users before disclosing personal information which exceeds the restrictions imposed by users' privacy settings. Facebook announced the change last year, at which point EPIC warned about the consequences of Facebook removing privacy settings for its users. In 2012, EPIC sent a letter to Facebook requesting a reversal of policy changes that automatically shared users’ private information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: In re Facebook.
- Pressure Mounts on Facebook to Withdraw Proposed Changes, New Scrutiny of "Faceprints" » (Sep. 13, 2013)
- EPIC, Privacy Groups, Urge FTC to Block Facebook Policy Changes » (Sep. 5, 2013)
EPIC, joined by several leading privacy and consumer protection organizations, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the terms of a 2011 settlement with Facebook. Facebook recently announced changes that would allow the company to routinely use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent. The changes arise from a flawed class action settlement over Facebook’s Sponsored Stories program. In the letter, the privacy groups explain that Facebook’s changes violate the terms of a 2011 settlement with the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- EPIC Pursues Public Release of Facebook and MySpace Privacy Reports » (Apr. 26, 2013)
EPIC has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the release of the privacy assessments of Facebook and MySpace submitted to the Federal Trade Commission. As a result of privacy violations, both companies are required to implement comprehensive privacy programs and submit to independent, biennial evaluations for 20 years. Previously, EPIC obtained a copy of Google's initial privacy assessment that redacted information about the standards by which the assessment was completed, the test procedures used to assess the effectiveness of Google's privacy controls, the procedures Google uses to identify privacy risks, and the types of personal data Google collects from users. The FTC settlements with Facebook and Google arose from complaints brought by EPIC and other consumer organizations. In comments to the agency on the proposed settlements, EPIC recommended that the privacy assessments be publicly available. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Open Government.
- Court Denies Appeal in Cy Pres Matter Over Objection that Settlement Fails to Provide Relief to Class Members » (Feb. 28, 2013)
The Ninth Circuit has refused to hear an appeal in a case involving a class-action lawsuit over Facebook’s Beacon program, which disclosed personal information without user consent. "Cy pres" ("as near as possible") is a legal doctrine that allows courts to allocate funds to protect the interests of individuals when there is a class action settlement. Courts typically provide cy pres awards that reflect the reason for the litigation and are aligned with the interests of class members. In the Facebook case the court chose instead to provide the funds to a new foundation created by Facebook, which was appealed. Six judges dissented from the denial, writing that "the majority in this case creates a significant loophole in our case law that will confuse litigants and judges, while endorsing cy pres settlements that in no way benefit class members." EPIC previously highlighted the dangers of improper cy pres distributions in settlements. For more information, see EPIC: Fraley v. Facebook, EPIC: Lane v. Facebook, and EPIC: In re: Google Buzz.
- Instagram Retreats on Changes to Terms of Service, Cites User Opposition » (Dec. 21, 2012)
Instagram announced that it would withdraw proposed changes to its terms of service announced earlier this week. Instagram backed off a plan to use the names, images, and photos of users for advertising purposes, pleading instead to "complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work." Instagram's parent company, Facebook, is bound by the terms of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, initiated in 2009 by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations, that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. A recent letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy warned that Facebook's proposed changes would adversely affect Instagram users. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: FTC.
- Instagram Privacy Change Raises Legal Questions » (Dec. 18, 2012)
Instagram recently announced several changes to the terms of service that will allow the company to use pictures in advertisements without notifying or compensating users, and to disclose user data to Facebook and to advertisers. Instagram also proposed that the parents of minors implicitly consent to the use of their childrens' images for advertising purposes. The changes The changes will take effect January 16, 2013, and will not apply to pictures uploaded before that date. Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, is under a 2011 consent order with the Federal Trade Commission that that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users’ personal information. Using an individual’s name or likeness for commercial purposes without consent is also prohibited in most states. EPIC had recently urged Facebook users to vote for "Existing Documents," warning that under the changed terms of service, Facebook would loosen privacy controls and that would impact Instagram. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
- Facebook Updates Privacy Controls, Removes Profiles Safeguard » (Dec. 13, 2012)
- EPIC Urges Vote for EXISTING Facebook Documents » (Dec. 4, 2012)
Facebook has proposed changes to its policies that would (1) end user voting, (2) remove spam blocking, and (3) share FB user data with affiliates without user consent. EPIC and others are urging Faceboook users to participate in the Facebook Governance Vote and to vote for EXISTING documents. Anyone with a Facebook account can VOTE HERE. #existingdocuments
- Privacy Groups Ask Facebook to Withdraw Proposed Changes » (Nov. 26, 2012)
EPIC, along with the Center for Digital Democracy, has asked Facebook to withdraw proposed changes that will impact the privacy of users and their ability to participate in site governance. Facebook recently proposed to end the voting part of the site governance process, restrict users' ability to prevent unwanted messages, and combine personal information from Facebook with Instagram. In the letter, the groups say "[b]ecause these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes." Facebook users may also comment directly on the proposed changes. Facebook is subject to the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook.
- Consumer Groups Ask FTC to Investigate Facebook-Datalogix Data-Matching Arrangement » (Sep. 27, 2012)
EPIC, joined by the Center for Digital Democracy, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook's data-matching arrangement with Datalogix violates a settlement between the FTC and Facebook. Facebook is matching the personal information of users with personal information held by Datalogix. The settlement, adopted in August, prohibits Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users’ personal information. EPIC had previously asked the FTC to determine whether "Timeline," which made archived user data widely available, or biometric tagging of user photos violated the terms of the consent order. The FTC has not made a determination on the EPIC Timeline request, and Facebook has suspended facial recognition in the US. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Datalogix.
- Facebook Ceases Facial Recognition in European Union » (Sep. 21, 2012)
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner issued a report finding that Facebook has implemented many of the Commissioner’s recommendations, such as halting the automatic use of facial recognition through "tag suggestions." Facebook has agreed to give users the choice over the use of facial recognition, to grant users access to their facial recognition template, and to delete the facial recognition data of EU citizens by October 15. The report also found that Facebook had implemented recommendations for improving transparency, enhancing the ability for users to delete data, and allowing users to access their data. On recommendations concerning user education, data deletion, and as targeting based on sensitive terms, the report found that "full implementation has not yet been achieved but is planned to be achieved by a specific deadline." The Federal Trade Commission recently adopted a proposed settlement with Facebook that prohibits Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In November 2011, EPIC recommended that the FTC prevent Facebook from creating facial recognition profiles without users' consent. In February 2012. EPIC recommended "the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
- Judge Rejects Settlement in Facebook "Sponsored Stories" Case » (Aug. 21, 2012)
A federal judge has rejected a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit about Facebook's unapproved use of user images for advertising purposes. The judge, who had previously expressed skepticism about the terms of the settlement, wrote that the plaintiffs had not justified the lack of direct monetary payments to Facebook users, nor had they explained how users will receive an economic benefit from being able to opt out of future endorsements. EPIC and several consumer privacy organizations opposed the settlement, saying that there was little benefit to Facebook users and that the cy pres allocation was not aligned with the interests of the class. In 2009 and 2010 EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations brought a successful complaint to the Federal Trade Commission that resulted in a significant consent order. In a letter to the court following the recent court order, EPIC explained that the FTC settlement had produced far greater benefits for Facebook users. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
- FTC Finalizes Settlement with Facebook » (Aug. 10, 2012)
The Federal Trade Commission has finalized the terms of a settlement with Facebook first announced in November of 2011. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC recommended strengthening the settlement by requiring Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; giving users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; preventing Facebook from creating facial recognition profiles without users’ consent; and publicizing the results of the government privacy audits. Although the FTC decided to adopt the settlement without any modifications, in a response to EPIC, the Commission said that facial recognition data is included within the settlement's definition of "covered information," that the audits would be publicly available to the extent permitted by law, and that the terms of the settlement "are broad enough to address misconduct beyond that expressly challenged in the complaint." Commissioner Rosch dissented from the final settlement, citing concerns that the provisions might not adequately cover deceptive statements made by Facebook apps. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
- Judge Skeptical of Facebook Settlement » (Aug. 3, 2012)
At a preliminary hearing on a proposed settlement involving Facebook "sponsored stories," Judge Seeborg expressed skepticism about the deal, wondering if there was any actual benefit to Facebook users. The deal, which had been endorsed by some groups funded by Facebook, was opposed by EPIC and several consumer privacy organizations. In 2009, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations brought a successful complaint to the FTC that resulted in a significant consent order. For more information, see In re Facebook.
- Illinois Becomes Third State to Prohibit Employers from Demanding Facebook Information » (Aug. 2, 2012)
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a bill that will prohibit employers from seeking the social network usernames and passwords of others. The Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act takes effect on January 1, 2013, and will result in Illinois joining Maryland and Delaware as the third state that protects the social network privacy of employees and job applicants. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- EPIC Objects to Facebook Settlement, Cites Failure to Benefit Class Members » (Jul. 13, 2012)
EPIC has asked a federal judge to reject a pending class action settlement concerning Facebook, stating that it does not actually benefit Facebook users. In one letter to the court, EPIC explained that the settlement does not fix the problem with "Sponsored Stories." In a second letter, joined by consumer, privacy, and academic organizations, EPIC said that "cy pres" funds should be distributed according to objective criteria, as courts have done in other similar cases. (Cy pres allows courts to allocate funds in class action settlements.) In 2009, EPIC led a coalition of consumer and privacy organizations that was responsible for the FTC's privacy settlement with Facebook.] And EPIC has routinely represented the interests of Facbeook users. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- EPIC Calls On FTC to Investigate Facebook Email Changes » (Jun. 27, 2012)
EPIC has asked the Federal Trade Commission to review Facebook's decision to change the default email address of Facebook users. The company recently removed email addresses, selected by users, with a @facebook.com address assigned by Facebook. EPIC asked the FTC to review this practice as it finalizes the terms of a settlement with Facebook. "Facebook's willingness to disregard user choice . . . raise[s] important questions about the company's ability to comply with the terms of the proposed Consent Order," EPIC wrote. EPIC also said that the change is a deceptive business practice because Facebook did not tell users that their preferred email address could be removed by the company. And EPIC noted that the change would result in user email being sent to Facebook's servers that would otherwise have gone to the user's email service. The FTC's settlement with Facebook follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. The settlement would bar Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- Facebook Acquires Facial Recognition Company Face.com » (Jun. 20, 2012)
Facebook announced the acquisition of Face.com, a facial recognition technology company and long-time business partner of Facebook. Facebook uses an automatic facial recognition system, called "tag suggestions," to create a database of users' biometric information. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that Facebook created biometric profiles of users without their explicit consent, failed to provide a clear mechanism for the deletion of these profiles, and failed to take adequate safeguards to ensure that users' biometric information would not be accessible to government agents and other third parties. In recent comments to the FTC, EPIC recommended the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established. For more information, see EPIC: Facial Recognition and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
- Facebook Users Force Vote on Privacy Changes » (May. 22, 2012)
Facebook users have registered enough comments on Facebook's proposed privacy changes to force a vote on the issue. A provision in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities states that Facebook will allow users to vote on proposed alternatives if more than 7,000 users comment on a proposed change. The vote is binding if "more than 30 percent of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote." Facebook's Data Use Policy accumulated 10,500 comments in English. The group Europe v. Facebook generated 30,000 comments on the German version of the page. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook that follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- Following Maryland, Congress and California Consider Bills Banning Employers From Asking for Facebook Passwords » (May. 1, 2012)
Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act, a bill that would prohibit employers, colleges, universities, and K-12 schools from seeking usernames or passwords for the social media accounts of employees or students. Similar legislation was introduced in California. Maryland became the first state to ban employers from asking employees or applicants for social networking passwords. Senators Blumenthal and Schumer have asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the practice. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Asks for Feedback after Policy Changes » (Apr. 23, 2012)
Facebook has re-opened its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for comment after making changes to the original document. Although users’ personal data can still be accessed by the apps of their friends, Facebook clarified that users could prevent this by changing the “Apps and Websites” settings. Facebook also deleted a provision reserving the right to “exclude or limit the provision of any service or feature in our sole discretion” in certain geographic areas after users raised concerns about censorship. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook after finding that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 and bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC recommended that Facebook restore the privacy settings that users had in place when the violations occurred. In response to Facebook's prior policy change, EPIC noted that the data-disclosure practices of applications implicated issues that led the creation of the consent order. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- Facebook Offers Revised “Download Your Information” Option » (Apr. 12, 2012)
The New York Times reported that Facebook would provide users with a downloadable archive containing many types of data that the company stores about users. Although the new archive contains more user information than Facebook first offered in 2010, Max Schrems, the German law student and founder of Europe v. Facebook, said that Facebook is still only providing 39 of 84 data categories. EPIC called on Facebook to give users full access to all of the data that the company keeps about them through EPIC’s Know What They Know campaign. In comments on a settlement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC recommended that the FTC require Facebook to give users full access to their data. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Know What They Know.
- Maryland Passes Bill Banning Employers from Demanding Facebook Information » (Apr. 11, 2012)
The Maryland legislature passed the first bill banning employers from asking employees or applicants for social networking passwords. The bill was introduced after Robert Collins, an employee at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, was asked to turn over his Facebook password as part the process of being reinstated as a corrections officer. Recently, Senators Blumenthal and Schumer asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the practice of employers asking job applicants to surrender user names and passwords for social networking sites like Facebook. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Senators Call for Investigation into Employer Demands for Facebook Passwords » (Mar. 26, 2012)
Senators Blumenthal and Schumer asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate the practice of employers asking job applicants to surrender Facebook user names and passwords. The Senators pointed out that accessing an applicant's profile could reveal sensitive information that employers are not permitted to ask about or base hiring decisions on. Thus, employers could be violating the Civil Rights Act and other federal laws, including the Stored Communication Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibit "unauthorized access" to electronic information. “Requiring applicants to provide login credentials to secure social media websites and then using those credentials to access private information stored on those sites may be unduly coercive and therefore constitute unauthorized access under both [Acts]," the letter states. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Policy Changes Raises Questions About Compliance with 2011 Consent Order » (Mar. 23, 2012)
Facebook has begun to review comments on changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Among other changes, Facebook now states that a user's information is disclosed to apps used by his or her friends, that Facebook software or plugins that users download may automatically download updates, upgrades, and additional features, and that users may not tag others who do not wish to be tagged. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook after finding that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." In particular, the FTC found that Facebook had misled users about the extent to which their personal information would be made available to apps used by their friends. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 and bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC said that the settlement is "insufficient to address the concerns originally identified by EPIC and the consumer coalition, as well as those findings established by the Commission." For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- Pew Study: Social Media Users Active in Protecting Privacy » (Feb. 27, 2012)
A Pew study found that users are becoming more active in managing their social media accounts. Compared to 2009, a higher percentage of users reported deleting people from their “friends” lists, deleting comments made by others on their profile, and removing their names from photos in which they were tagged. The report also found that women and young users were the most active in protecting their privacy. The Federal Trade Commission is currently finalizing a consent order with Facebook over charges that the company changed users' privacy settings to make personal information more available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. For more information, see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: Public Opinion and Privacy.
- EPIC Calls for Moratorium on Facial Recognition Technology » (Feb. 1, 2012)
In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC today recommended the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established. EPIC said that facial recognition is often used by strangers to determine a person's actual identity and that this poses a risk to privacy and personal security. EPIC also noted that some companies have adopted techniques that are more favorable to privacy as they allow users to control the image database while others undermine privacy, as the image database is centrally maintained. EPIC previously submitted a complaint to the FTC about Facebook's use of facial recognition technology to build a secret database of users' biometric data and allowing the company to automatically tag users in photos. The comments follow an FTC workshop exploring the privacy and security issues raised of facial recognition technology. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, EPIC: Face Recognition, and EPIC: Facebook and Face Recognition.
- EPIC Urges FTC Investigation into Facebook Timeline » (Dec. 28, 2011)
EPIC sent a letter requesting that the Federal Trade Commission determine whether changes Facebook has made to the profiles of its users are consistent with the terms of a settlement reached between Facebook and the FTC. EPIC's letter states that "with Timeline, Facebook has once again taken control over the user's data from the user and has now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available without the consent of the user." The settlement requires Facebook to give users clear and prominent notice and obtain users' express consent before changing their privacy settings. EPIC sent a similar letter to the FTC about Timeline and the secret tracking of users in September 2011. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- EPIC Submits Comments on FTC Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Dec. 28, 2011)
EPIC submitted comments to the FTC on a proposed settlement with Facebook. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. However, EPIC said that the settlement is "insufficient to address the concerns originally identified by EPIC and the consumer coalition, as well as those findings established by the Commission." In order to address the issues raised by the complaints, respond to recent changes in Facebook's business practices like Timeline, and fulfill the FTC's duty to act in the public interest, EPIC recommended that the settlement be improved. Specifically, EPIC recommended that the FTC require Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; give users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; stop making facial recognition profiles without users' consent; make the results of the government privacy audits public; and stop secretly tracking users across the web. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- EPIC Sues DHS Over Covert Surveillance of Facebook and Twitter » (Dec. 20, 2011)
EPIC has filed a Freedom of information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to force disclosure of the details of the agency's social network monitoring program. In news reports and a Federal Register notice, the DHS has stated that it will routinely monitor the public postings of users on Twitter and Facebook. The agency plans to create fictitious user accounts and scan posts of users for key terms. User data will be stored for five years and shared with other government agencies.The legal authority for the DHS program remains unclear. EPIC filed the lawsuit after the DHS failed to reply to an April 2011 FOIA request. For more information, see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
- Facebook Timeline Changes User Privacy Settings. Again. » (Dec. 15, 2011)
Without user consent, Facebook announced today that it would post archived user information, making old posts available under Facebook's current downgraded privacy settings. Users have just a week to clean up their history before Timeline goes live. The surprising announcement follows a recent decision by the Federal Trade Commission which found that the company had engaged in "unfair and deceptive" trade practices when it changed the privacy settings of its users. EPIC initiated that complaint and is now urging FB users to submit comments to strengthen the proposed settlement. For more information, see EPIC - In Re Facebook and EPIC - Facebook and Privacy.
- EPIC Launches Campaign Urging Public Comment on Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Dec. 13, 2011)
EPIC launched the "Fix FB Privacy Fail" campaign to encourage the public to support improvements to a settlement between Facebook and the FTC. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. Although the proposed settlement is far-reaching, there are several ways in which it could be improved. EPIC has recommended that the FTC require Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; give users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; stop making facial recognition profiles without users' consent; make the results of the government privacy audits public; and stop secretly tracking users across the web. The period for public comment on the proposed settlement ends on December 30. The campaign also allows users to sign on to the petition without using Facebook. For more information, see EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
- Federal Trade Commission Announces Settlement in EPIC Facebook Privacy Complaint » (Nov. 29, 2011)
The Federal Trade Commission has announced an agreement with Facebook that follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the EPIC first asked the FTC to investigate Facebook's decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information, such as Friend lists and application usage data, more widely available to the public and to Facebook’s business partners. The violations are also detailed in the FTC’s 8-count complaint against the company. The proposed settlement agreement bars Facebook from making future changes privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users and requires the company to implement a comprehensive privacy protection program and submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. The settlement does not adopt EPIC's recommendation that Facebook restore users' privacy settings to pre-2009 levels. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to the settlement in a post on Facebook's blog, saying that he was "first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes." For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
- Federal Trade Commission to Announce Settlement in EPIC Facebook Privacy Complaint » (Nov. 29, 2011)
- FTC Publishes Performance Report » (Nov. 22, 2011)
The Federal Trade Commission has issued the 2011 Performance and Accountability Report. The report summarizes the agency’s accomplishments, shows how the agency has managed its resources, and explains how it plans to address future changes. According to the FTC, during 2011 the agency exceeded its privacy goals by providing 52 comments to foreign consumer protection and privacy agencies, conducting 14 technical assistance missions, and hosting one international consumer protection fellow. The agency’s privacy goals for the coming year include "issu[ing] a final report on protecting consumer privacy," and "examin[ing] malware and spyware threats to mobile devices . . . and malware distributed through social networks." The FTC report made no mention of several pending complaints, including EPIC's 2009 complaint regarding the changes by Facebook to its users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
- WSJ: Facebook Close to Settlement with FTC over EPIC Complaint » (Nov. 10, 2011)
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission is finalizing a settlement with Facebook that follows from a complaint from EPIC and a coalition of US consumer and privacy organizations. In 2009, the organizations urged the Commission to investigate Facebook's decision to change its users' privacy settings which made the personal information of Facebook users more widely available to Facebook's business partners and the public. According to the Wall Street Journal, the settlement would require Facebook to obtain "express affirmative consent" if Facebook makes "material retroactive changes," and to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
- Congress, #KWTK Presses Facebook to Disclose Secret Profiles » (Oct. 31, 2011)
Lawmakers in Washington have sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, asking questions about the company's data retention practices, following a news report that a single European Facebook user obtained more than 1,200 pages of his own personal data from the company, including information that he had previously deleted. Following an effort of privacy advocates in Europe, EPIC has launched the KWTK (Know What They Know) campaign and is urging Facebook users to obtain their complete "data dossier" from the company. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC:#kwtk.
- Sen. Rockefeller Requests FTC Report on Facial Recognition Technology » (Oct. 20, 2011)
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) sent a letter requesting that the Federal Trade Commission assess the use of facial recognition technology and recommend legislation to protect privacy. Facial recognition technology is being used by technology firms and also police agencies, which has raised civil liberties concerns. The letter cited mobile applications such as SceneTap, which "tracks the male/female ratio and age mix of the crowd [in bars]" and digital advertising at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas that tailors ads to the person standing in front of the display based on recognition of that person’s age and gender. The FTC will hold a workshop on facial recognition technology on December 8, 2011. EPIC's complaint regarding Facebook's facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Facial Recognition.
- EPIC-Led Coalition Calls for FTC Facebook Investigation » (Sep. 29, 2011)
EPIC, joined by other privacy, consumer, and civil liberties groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action, American Library Association, and the Center for Digital Democracy asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook. Facebook had been secretly tracking users after they logged off of Facebook’s webpage, and had recently announced changes in business practices that “[gave] the company far greater ability to disclose the personal information of its users to its business partners...” EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
- FTC Announces Workshop on Facial Recognition Technology » (Sep. 20, 2011)
The Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host a workshop on December 8, 2011, on the privacy and security issues raised by the increasing use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology has been used by Facebook to build a secret data base of users’ biometric data and to enable Facebook to automatically tag users in photos. The Army has also used facial recognition technology to collect biometric data from Iraqi and Afghan civilians at checkpoints, workplaces, the sites of attacks, and door-to-door canvasses. EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch wrote to the US Secretary Defense in 2007 to warn that the system could lead to reprisals and further killings. Police agencies are also using facial recognition to identity political protesters. EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: Face Recognition, and EPIC: Iraqi Biometric Identification System.
- Facebook Makes Some Changes, Privacy Complaints Still Pending » (Aug. 29, 2011)
In response to several complaints filed by EPIC with the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook announced that it would make some changes in its business practices, including providing more accurate information about the disclosure of user data to others and new safeguards for photo tagging. EPIC, along with several privacy organizations, filed several complaints with the FTC about FB's automated tagging of users, changes in Privacy settings, and transfers of personal data, stating that Facebook's practices were "unfair and deceptive." Facebook's recent actions address some but not all of the issues raised by the consumer organizations. The complaint at the FTC are still pending. For more information see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Makes Changes to Facial Recognition; Still Relying on Opt-Out » (Jul. 27, 2011)
In response to a letter from the Connecticut Attorney General, Facebook agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show them how to opt-out of Facebook's facial recognition program. The ads are new, but Facebook has failed to implement an opt-in model for its facial recognition technology. EPIC, along with several other organizations, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding biometric data collection. EPIC urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program pending a full investigation. EPIC also urged the Commission to require Facebook to establish stronger privacy safeguards and an opt-in regime for the facial recognition scheme. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook and the Facial Identification of Users.
- Congressman Markey Commends EPIC, Privacy Groups for Filing Facebook Complaint » (Jun. 14, 2011)
Congressman Ed Markey today expressed support for the complaint filed last week by EPIC and privacy groups concerning Facebook's new scheme for online tagging. In a published statement, Congressman Markey said, "The Federal Trade Commission should investigate this important privacy matter, and I commend the consumer groups for their filing. When it comes to users’ privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: 'Ask for permission, don’t assume it.' Rather than facial recognition, there should be a Facebook recognition that changing privacy settings without permission is wrong. I encourage the FTC to probe this issue and will continue to closely monitor this issue." EPIC and consumer groups now have several complaints regarding Facebook pending at the FTC. For more information, see EPIC - In re Facebook and EPIC - In re Facebook II, and EPIC - Facebook and Privacy.
- EPIC Files Complaint, Urges Investigation of Facebook's Facial Recognition Techniques » (Jun. 10, 2011)
Today EPIC, and several privacy organizations, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about Facebook's automated tagging of Facebook users. EPIC alleged that the service was unfair and deceptive and urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program, pending a full investigation, the establishment of stronger privacy standards, and a requirement that automated identification, based on user photos, require opt-in consent. EPIC alleged that "Users could not reasonably have known that Facebook would use their photos to build a biometric database in order to implement a facial recognition technology under the control of Facebook." EPIC warned that "absent injunctive relief by the Commission, Facebook will likely expand the use of the facial recognition database it has covertly established for purposes over which Facebook users will be able to exercise no meaningful control." EPIC has previously filed two complaints with the Commission regarding Facebook. For more information see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Resumes Plan to Disclose User Home Addresses and Mobile Phone Numbers » (Mar. 2, 2011)
Facebook indicated in a letter to Rep. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Barton (R-TX) that it will go forward with a proposal to provide users' addresses and mobile phone numbers to third-party application developers. The Congressman earlier expressed concern about the proposal. Facebook also wrote that it may disclose the home addresses and mobile numbers of minors who use the social networking service. Facebook suspended the plan after EPIC and others objected. EPIC and several consumer organizations have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Enables Full-Session Encryption » (Feb. 7, 2011)
Facebook will now allow full-session HTTPS. The switch to encrypted cloud-based computing promotes privacy and security, particularly when users access Facebook from public Internet access points. Previously, Facebook only used HTTPS when users’ passwords were being sent to the site. Third party applications currently do not support HTTPS. Users can opt into HTTPS through their “Account Settings;” however, HTTPS is not yet the default. Facebook will use "social authentication, rather than traditional CAPTCHA," to deter hackers. EPIC has previously recommended the adoption of strong privacy techniques for cloud-based services. In 2009, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, urging an investigation into Google’s cloud computing services to determine the adequacy of privacy and security safeguards. Google subsequently established HTTPS by default for Gmail. For related information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: Cloud Computing, and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
- Congressman Barton and Markey Challenge Facebook on Disclosure of Home Addresses, Mobile Phone Numbers » (Feb. 2, 2011)
A letter from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to Mark Zuckerberg asks about Facebook's plans to make users' addresses and mobile phone numbers available to websites and application developers. Facebook suspended the plan after EPIC and others objected. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said that "Facebook is trying to blur the line between public and private information. And the request for permission does not make clear to the user why the information is needed or how it will be used." EPIC, and several consumer organizations, have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Drops Plan to Disclose Users' Home Addresses and Personal Phone Numbers » (Jan. 18, 2011)
Facebook has retreated from its decision to allow third-party access to users home addresses and phone numbers. Facebook backed off after criticism of the new policy, but said it would go forward once it has made further changes. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said "Facebook is trying to blur the line between public and private information. And the request for permission does not make clear to the user why the information is needed or how it will be used." EPIC, and several consumer organizations, have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Congressmen Question Facebook About Latest Privacy Breach » (Oct. 20, 2010)
Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter to Facebook about the news that Facebook's business partners transmitted personal user data to advertising and internet tracking companies in violation of the company's policy. EPIC has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission regarding Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook Uses RFID to Track Users' Locations for Advertising Promotion » (Aug. 25, 2010)
At the Coca-Cola Village Amusement Park in Israel, visitors were recently issued bracelets with RFID chips that linked to their Facebook accounts, according to Adland. RFID readers scattered throughout the park updated the users' Facebook pages when the bracelets were scanned. On-site photographers also posted photos that were automatically tagged with the users' identities. Facebook had previously tested the use of RFID for location tracking at the f8 Developer Conference in April. Facebook has also just launched Places, which is designed to make users' location information widely available. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Facebook Places.
- Facebook "Places" Embeds Privacy Risks, Complicated and Ephemeral Opt-Out Unfair to Users » (Aug. 19, 2010)
The recently announced Facebook service Places makes user location data routinely available to others, including Facebook business partners, regardless of whether users wish to disclose their location. There is no single opt-out to avoid location tracking; users must change several different privacy settings to restore their privacy status quo. For users who do not want location information revealed to others, EPIC recommends that Facebook users: (1) disable "Friends can check me in to Places," (2) customize "Places I Check In," (3) disable "People Here Now," and (4) uncheck "Places I've Visited." EPIC, joined by many consumer and privacy organizations, has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices, which are frequently associated with new product announcements. For more information, see EPIC In Re Facebook, EPIC In Re Facebook II, and EPIC Facebook Privacy.
- EPIC to Urge Congress to Strengthen Privacy Laws for Facebook Users » (Jul. 28, 2010)
In prepared testimony (PDF) for a Congressional hearing on "Online Privacy, Social Networking and Crime Vicitimization," EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg urged lawmakers to update federal law to protect the privacy of Facebook users. Mr. Rotenberg said that Facebook's constant changes to the privacy settings of users have made it virtually impossible for users to control who gets access to their personal information. He also said that the failure of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook's business practices means that Congress must now amend the federal privacy law to limit the ability of Social Network companies to disclose user information to third parties without informed and explicit consent. Also testifying at the hearing are witnesses from the FBI, the Secret Service, Symantec, and Facebook. For more information, see EPIC Social Networking Privacy, EPIC Facebook, and EPIC In re Google Buzz.
- Facebook Scores Low on Consumer Satisfaction » (Jul. 22, 2010)
In a recent study by Foresee Results and the University of Michigan, Facebook has scored extremely low in the area of customer satisfaction. The 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index E-Business Report included social networking companies for the first time, and Facebook scored a 64, putting it "in the bottom 5% of all measured private sector companies and in the same range as airlines and cable companies." The polling company attributed Facebook's low scores to "privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website, and commercialization and advertising." For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Public Opinion on Privacy.
- Federal Trade Commission Takes Action Against Twitter, Social Network Service Settles Charges It Deceived Consumers » (Jun. 24, 2010)
- Privacy Conference Attendees Set Out Social Networking Bill of Rights » (Jun. 23, 2010)
Participants at the 2010 Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy have prepared a Social Network Users' Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights sets out principles for providers of social network services, including clarity of policies, empowerment of users, freedom of speech, data minimization, and user control. For more information, follow #billofrights and see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- EPIC, Privacy Groups Recommend Further Changes for Facebook » (Jun. 16, 2010)
EPIC has joined a letter, organized by the ACLU of Northern California, calling for Facebook to fix ongoing privacy problems with the social network service. The letter, signed by several privacy organizations, recommends that Facebook make "Instant Personalization" opt-in, limit data retention, give users greater control over their information, and allow users to export their content from Facebook. EPIC has a complaint currently pending at the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy.
- Privacy Issue Attracts Fire in California Attorney General Race » (Jun. 7, 2010)
Facebook privacy has become a hot topic in the California race for Attorney General. In the Democratic primary, Kamala Harris has attacked former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly over the company's privacy practices. But Kelley has recently criticized some of the Facebook changes and said that "instant personalization" should be opt-in. Kelly has also supported a Moveon Facebook campaign though some bloggers have doubts. During the last election cycle, EPIC launched PRIVACY08 to encourage candidates to debate privacy issues. Also see EPIC Facebook Privacy.
- Congress Pursues Investigation of Google and Facebook's Business Practices » (Jun. 1, 2010)
Following similar letters from other Congressional leaders, the head of the House Judiciary Committee has asked Google Inc. and Facebook to cooperate with government inquiries into privacy practices at both companies. Rep. Conyers (D-MI) noted that Google's collection of user data "may be the subject of federal and state investigations" and asked Google to retain the data until "such time as review of this matter is complete." Rep. Conyers also asked Facebook to provide a detailed explanation regarding its collection and sharing of user information. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings on electronic privacy later this year. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: In re Facebook II, and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
- Facebook Expected to Announce Privacy Changes » (May. 25, 2010)
Following a recent column in the Washington Post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company is expected to announce new, simplified privacy settings this week. EPIC objected to the last several rounds of changes that Facebook made, filing a complaint with the FTC in December when the company reclassified much of users' data as "publicly available information," a supplement to that complaint in January, and another complaint this month when Facebook forced users' profile information to become publicly available links instead of private data. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: In re Facebook II.
- New Facebook Privacy Complaint Filed with Trade Commission » (May. 5, 2010)
Today, EPIC and 14 privacy and consumer protection organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent "violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations." The complaint also cites widespread opposition from Facebook users, Senators, bloggers, and news organizations. In a letter to Congress, EPIC urged the Senate and House Committees with jurisdiction over the FTC to monitor closely the Commission's investigation. The letter noted the FTC's failure to act on several pending consumer privacy complaints. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Senators Oppose Facebook Changes, Schumer Urges Trade Commission to Regulate Social Network Services » (Apr. 27, 2010)
- Facebook's Data Grab: New Policies Transfer Control of User Data to Facebook » (Apr. 22, 2010)
Facebook announced significant changes at F8 this week that will integrate Facebook with many web sites, but also make it more difficult for Facebook users to limit the disclosure of personal information. The announcement follows recent changes to Facebook privacy settings and privacy policies. "Instant personalization" will give Facebook's business partners access to users' likes, interests, friends, and other details, unless users opt-out. Facebook has also removed a key privacy safeguard and will allow third parties to store user data indefinitely. EPIC has a complaint pending at the FTC concerning recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC's Previous FTC Complaint regarding Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook.
- EPIC Recommends Effective Consumer Privacy Standards, Calls Notice and Choice a "Failed Experiment" » (Mar. 17, 2010)
At the third FTC Privacy Roundtable, EPIC senior counsel John Verdi will recommend that the Commission push forward with effective and meaningful privacy safeguards for American consumers. Mr. Verdi will say that the "notice and choice" approach has failed, and will recommend that the FTC enforce Fair Information Practices, such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines. The discussion can be viewed via webcast. Additional information on the FTC roundtable event can be found here. For more information, see EPIC In re Google Buzz, EPIC In re Facebook, and EPIC In re Google and Cloud Computing.
- Judge Waits to Decide on Proposed Settlement in Facebook Privacy Case » (Mar. 1, 2010)
Following a hearing last week, U.S. District Court Judge Seeborg reserved decision about the approval of Facebook’s proposed 9.5 million dollar settlement in a case involving Facebook Beacon. According to the settlement terms, Facebook would contribute about $6 million to the establishment of a privacy organization. Facebook, however, would maintain control over this organization, as Facebook's top lobbyist would become co-President and all significant decisions would require a unanimous vote. EPIC and several other privacy organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, have written a letter to Judge Seeborg, ask him to reject the settlement as proposed. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Study Ranks Top 20 Companies for Privacy in 2010, Facebook Drops Off List » (Feb. 26, 2010)
Ponemon Institute released its annual study identifying the top twenty companies that are most trusted for privacy. American Express was ranked first, earning the Most Trusted for Privacy distinction for the fifth year in a row. Facebook suffered several privacy missteps over the last year, including a recent change in privacy settings at the end of 2009, and as a result, failed to make the 2010 list. Google, however, returned to the Top 20, ranked at 13. The survey also produced significant findings regarding consumer attitudes towards privacy, including the finding that consumers feel they are losing control over their personal information. Further, the responses revealed that consumers’ fear of identity theft is the main factor for brand trust diminishment, while a company’s implementation of privacy features contribute to brand trust. Other significant positive factors were limits on the collection of personal information and online anonymity.
- Facebook Users Object to Beacon Settlement » (Feb. 2, 2010)
Facebook users filed papers in federal court objecting to a proposed deal that would extinguish the company's liability for disclosing personal information in violation of federal law. Users criticized the class action settlement, stating "the class receives no meaningful relief." Other objectors alleged "in effect, Facebook is paying itself the benefit but class members are releasing their individual privacy claims." EPIC previously submitted a letter to the judge hearing the case. EPIC's letter opposes the settlement and proposes alternatives that would enable stronger privacy safeguards for Facebook users in the future. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster.
- EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Users' Privacy On Cloud Computing and Social Networking Services » (Jan. 28, 2010)
EPIC submitted comments to the FTC prior to the agency’s second privacy roundtable. EPIC warned of the ongoing privacy risks associated with cloud computing and social networking privacy, highlighting the Google cloud computing complaint and Facebook privacy complaint filed by EPIC in 2009. The comments note that the FTC has failed to take any meaningful action with respect to either complaint, demonstrating the Commission's “lack of leadership and technical expertise.” EPIC's comments also draw attention to the success of international privacy initiatives, in hopes of encouraging the FTC to take meaningful action to protect American consumers. For more information, see EPIC: Cloud Computing and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
- EPIC, Privacy Groups Oppose Facebook Settlement » (Jan. 19, 2010)
EPIC and other privacy groups sent a letter to the federal judge overseeing a class-action settlement against Facebook in California, opposing the settlement as unfair and unreasonable. As proposed, the settlement does not provide any benefit for Facebook users whose private data was illegally exposed by Facebook "Beacon." Instead, the deal would create a new "privacy foundation" subject to Facebook's influence. Fair settlements typically provide compensation to class members or a remedy that addresses the underlying harm, which in this case was a violation of federal privacy law. The letter from EPIC proposes alternatives that would enable stronger privacy safeguards for Facebook users in the future. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster.
- EPIC’s Facebook Complaint of "particular interest" to FTC » (Jan. 19, 2010)
The FTC has sent a letter to EPIC regarding the December 2009 complaint, submitted by privacy organizations, about Facebook’s recent changes to user privacy settings. In the letter, the Bureau of Consumer Protection Director states that the complaint “raises issues of particular interest” for the FTC. Further, Vladeck stresses the importance of providing “transparency about how this data is being handled, maintained, shared, and protected . . . .” The Commission, however, cannot confirm or deny whether an investigation has been launched. The letter came one day before EPIC filed a supplemental complaint regarding Facebook’s privacy practices. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
- Canadian Privacy Commission to Investigate Facebook » (Jan. 19, 2010)
- Privacy Groups File Amended Complaint regarding Facebook » (Jan. 14, 2010)
EPIC and several other groups filed a supplement to the groups' original complaint with the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook’s recent privacy changes. The new complaint provides additional evidence of Facebook’s unfair and deceptive trade practices relating to Facebook CEO's public statements, the most recent version of the Facebook for iPhone application, Facebook Connect, and "web-suicide" applications. The complaint also offers numerous examples of media stories and blog posts in support of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into Facebook’s unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
- EPIC Defends Privacy of Facebook Users: Files Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission » (Dec. 17, 2009)
EPIC has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, urging the FTC to open an investigation into Facebook’s revised privacy settings. The EPIC complaint, signed by nine other privacy and consumer organizations, states that the "changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations." EPIC cites widespread opposition from Facebook users, security experts, bloggers, and news organizations. A previous EPIC complaint to the FTC, concerning the data broker industry, produced the largest settlement in the FTC's history. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding EPIC's Facebook Complaint, and EPIC Facebook Privacy. EPIC PRESS RELEASE.
- Facebook Asks Users to Review Privacy Settings, Recommends Privacy Options, Questions Remain » (Dec. 9, 2009)
Facebook is asking users to review and update their privacy settings. However, the privacy recommendations, suggested by Facebook, may result in greater disclosure than users intend. Facebook faces ongoing privacy scrutiny following Beacon, proposed changes to the Terms of Services, and a settlement now pending in California. EPIC has urged Facebook to respect user privacy settings. EPIC is also defending the privacy rights of Facebook users who participated in Beacon. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook to Drop Regional Networks, Change Privacy Settings » (Dec. 4, 2009)
Facebook announced that it intends to eliminate regional networks, which allow users to restrict information shared with others based geography. The social networking service will also modify the site's privacy settings and require users to update the rules governing who can access their data. In February, revisions to Facebook's terms of service prompted users to revolt and Facebook to rescind the changes hours before EPIC planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Prior changes to the service resulted in disclosure of Facebook users' video rental records without their permission, prompting federal lawsuits. For more, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and Social Networking Privacy
- EPIC Urges Court to Enforce Video Privacy Law » (Nov. 4, 2009)
Today, EPIC filed a friend of the court brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, urging the Court to enforce federal privacy protections for Facebook users who rented videos from Blockbuster, a Facebook business partner. The Video Privacy Protection Act prohibits companies from revealing consumers' video rental histories. EPIC wrote, "Congress established a private right of action to ensure that there would be a meaningful remedy when companies failed to safeguard the data they collected" and warned, "absent a private right of action, there would be no effective enforcement, no remedy for violations, and no way to ensure that companies complied with the intent of the Act." The lawsuit was filed by Cathryn Harris and other Facebook users after Blockbuster made public their private video rental information. Blockbuster, a participant in Facebook's Beacon program, claimed that consumers cannot sue the company and must submit to mandatory arbitration. EPIC's brief, which includes a detailed history of the video privacy law, urges the appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling, which held that the plaintiffs are allowed to pursue their claim that a federal law was violated. For more information, see EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster, EPIC The Video Privacy Protection Act, and EPIC Facebook Privacy.
- Facebook to End Beacon, Establish Privacy Foundation » (Sep. 22, 2009)
Facebook has entered into a proposed agreement to end Beacon, the controversial advertising technique that broadcast user purchases in their public profile. EPIC and other privacy advocates objected to Beacon’s privacy implications and successfully persuaded Facebook to adopt opt-in for the service. Under the terms of a class-action lawsuit in California, Facebook will now terminate Beacon and contribute $9.5 million towards the creation of a foundation dedicated to protecting online privacy. A class-action lawsuit concerning Beacon is also pending in Texas. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Testimony on the "Impact and Policy Implications of Spyware on Consumers and Businesses."
- Following Canadian Investigation, Facebook Upgrades Privacy » (Aug. 28, 2009)
- Canadian Privacy Commissioner's Deadline for Facebook Arrives, Some Changes are Made at the Social Network Company » (Aug. 17, 2009)
- EPIC Forces Disclosure of Government Contracts with Social Media Companies, Privacy Terms Missing » (Aug. 12, 2009)
In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act Request, the Government Services Administration released several contracts between the federal government and web 2.0 companies, including agreements with Blip.tv, Blist, Google (YouTube), Yahoo (Flickr), and MySpace. EPIC also obtained amendments to agreements with Facebook, Slideshare.net, Vimeo.com, and AddThis.com. The contracts do not address the privacy obligations of social media companies. The GSA letter to EPIC explained that “no specific Web 2.0 guidance currently exists,” but provided EPIC with Training Slides that raise privacy issues. The GSA Agreement with Google actually states that, “to the extent any rules or guidelines exist prohibiting the use of persistent cookies in connection with Provider Content applies to Google, Provider expressly waives those rules or guidelines as they may apply to Google.” Some of the agreements also permit companies to track users of government web sites for advertising purposes. For more information see EPIC Social Network Privacy, EPIC Facebook, and EPIC Cloud Computing.
- Canadian Privacy Commissioner Holds that Facebook Must Strengthen Privacy Safeguards » (Jul. 16, 2009)
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada today released a Report of Findings into the Complaint Filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic against Facebook Inc. The complaint, filed under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, contained twenty-four allegations concerning a range of Facebook business practices, including Default Privacy Settings, Advertising, and Third-Party Applications. The Commissioner found that Facebook has taken some steps to address privacy, but that more safeguards are necessary. Facebook has 30 days to respond. See EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Social Networking Privacy.
- Facebook to Change User Privacy Settings » (Jul. 1, 2009)
Facebook announced planned changes to user privacy controls today. Chris Kelly, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer, stated that the new policy will promote "control, simplicity and connection" for user data. The announcement states there will be no changes in term of "the information Facebook provides to advertisers" but does not address concerns about the information provided by Facebook to app developers. In June, European Privacy Commissioners warned about the secondary use of personal data collected by social network services. The officials issued an opinion requiring robust security, privacy-friendly default settings, and the application of European privacy law. In April, EPIC supported the adoption of the new Facebook Terms of Service when Facebook said that "users own and control their information." See EPIC Social Networking Privacy.
- EPIC Seeks Government Agreements with Social Networking Companies » (Apr. 30, 2009)
EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Government Services Administration seeking agency records concerning agreements the GSA negotiated between federal agencies and social networking services, including Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv, and Facebook. In the FOIA request, EPIC is asking for the public release of the contracts and any legal opinions concerning the application of the Privacy Act of 1974 and Freedom of Information Act to the services that collect information on citizens. For more information see EPIC’s pages Social Networking, Facebook, and Cloud Computing.
- Facebook Gets Ready to Adopt Terms of Service » (Apr. 24, 2009)
Facebook has announced the results of the vote on site governance. The initial outcome indicates that approximately 75 percent of users voted for the new terms of service which includes the new Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Under the new Principles, Facebook users will "own and control their information." Facebook also took steps to improve account deletion, to limit sublicenses, and to reduce data exchanges with application developers. EPIC supports the adoption of the new terms. For more information, see EPIC's page on Social Networking Privacy.
- Facebook Seeks Vote on Site Governance » (Apr. 20, 2009)
In February, Facebook announced that it was opening its site governance to user voting after the new Terms of Service were widely criticized, and were to be the subject of an EPIC complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook restored the old terms and sought user feedback on the new Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. These governing documents have now been updated to reflect feedback from users and experts. The voting to adopt the new terms or to maintain the previous terms is now open till April 23, 11:59 a.m. PDT. For more, see the efforts of People Against the New Terms of Service, and EPIC's Social Networking Privacy page.
- Facebook Announces Governing Principles, Statement of Rights and Responsibilities » (Feb. 26, 2009)
Today, Facebook proposed guidelines and a statement of rights and responsibilities governing its relationship with users. The social networking service called for user comment on the principles, which include "Ownership and Control of Information" and "Transparent Process." Facebook further committed to "open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future." Facebook's announcement follows last week's abandonment of changes to its Terms of Service on the eve of an EPIC complaint to federal regulators. For more and see the efforts of People Against the New Terms of Service, and EPIC's "Social Networking Privacy" page.
- On Eve of EPIC Trade Commission Complaint, Facebook Backs Down on Revised Terms of Service » (Feb. 18, 2009)
Hours before EPIC planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding changes to Facebook's Terms of Service, the social network service announced that it will restore the original policy. The new Terms of Service were announced on Feb. 4, were widely criticized, and were to be the subject of the EPIC complaint. Facebook users observed that, under the revised policies, Facebook asserted broad, permanent, and retroactive rights to users' personal information - even after they deleted their accounts. The EPIC complaint was supported by more than a dozen consumer and privacy organizations. Previous EPIC Complaints at the FTC have concerned Choicepoint, Microsoft Passport, and the Google-Doubleclick merger. For more, see EPIC's "Social Networking Privacy" page. Support EPIC's efforts to maintain your privacy in the social networking world.
A “cookie” is a small text file that a server creates and sends to a browser, storing files in a particular directory on an individual computer. Facebook cookies come in two flavors. The first is a “session cookie” that is set when a user logs into Facebook. Session cookies are supposed to be deleted when a user logs out of Facebook. The second is a “tracking cookie” - also known as a “persistent cookie” - which uses Facebook “like” buttons placed on other websites to track which websites a user visits as she surfs the web. The tracking cookie sends data back to Facebook any time user accesses a page with the Facebook “like” button. Tracking cookies are not deleted when a user logs out of Facebook. In fact, Facebook sets these cookies on an individual’s computer whether or not they have a Facebook account.
One such tracking cookie is called a “datr” cookie. When a logged-out user visits a website that includes a Facebook “like” button, such as the CNN homepage, the CNN server responds with the file for the CNN homepage, which also contains embedded code from Facebook. The user’s browser, triggered by the Facebook code, sends a request to the Facebook server to display the Facebook “like” button on the page. This request contains information from the user’s datr cookie as well as details of the specific webpage that the user accessed. When Facebook receives this information, the Facebook server adds it to its database records for the browser and the user, enabling Facebook to build a profile of the individual user’s browsing habits over time.
Plaintiffs alleged that Facebook used these datr cookies to intentionally track users’ browsing activity after they logged-out of Facebook despite contrary representations in the social network’s governing materials.
Plaintiffs also alleged that the information Facebook receives through tracking logged-out users is specific enough to identify the user. They alleged that if a user has logged into Facebook, the datr tracking cookie that is set on her machine is linked to her through a number which is unique to her browser and computer or mobile device. Plaintiffs contend that the personal information Facebook receives from its users, including users’ browsing history, has “massive economic value” and that a market exists for such information.
Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against Facebook in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California on May 23, 2012, alleging violations of the federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. §2510 et seq., the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., the California Invasion of Privacy Act (“CIPA”), invasion of privacy under the California Constitution, as well as common law claims.. The district court granted Facebook’s motion to dismiss on October 23, 2015, with leave to amend, on the grounds that Plaintiffs had failed to establish Article III standing with respect to some of their claims, and that Plaintiffs had failed to state a claim with respect to the rest.
Specifically, the court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act claim with leave to amend because the Plaintiffs had not sufficiently alleged that Facebook intercepted the “contents” of a communication. The court reasoned that the tracking cookies Facebook set on Plaintiffs’ web browsers collected only their browsing history, which does not qualify as “contents” under the Ninth Circuit’s holding in In re Zynga Privacy Litig., 750 F.3d 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Zynga held that a “referrer header” - basically the portion of the webpage request that provides the address of the webpage - does not meet the Wiretap Act’s definition of “contents”
The court also dismissed Plaintiffs’ CIPA claims with leave to amend, adding that “Plaintiffs have not pled facts to show how Facebook used a ‘machine, instrument, or contrivance’ to obtain the contents of communications.” Although Plaintiffs contended that a cookie is a “contrivance” under CIPA, the court stated that, “Plaintiffs must include facts in their pleading to show why it is so. In its current form, the [complaint] only defines a cookie as a small text file containing a limited amount of information which sits idly on a user’s computer until contacted by the server.” The court did not specifically address the common law invasion of privacy claim, but dismissed all common law claims with leave to amend for lack of standing.
Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on December 1, 2015, re-alleging the same statutory and common law claims as the original complaint. On June 30, 2017, the court again granted Facebook’s motion to dismiss. This time, the court provided alternative reasons for why the plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act, CIPA, and SCA claims failed. The court found that the Wiretap Act claims failed because Facebook did not “intercept” the browser communications—Plaintiffs’ browsers communicated with both Facebook and the third-party websites simultaneously. The court found that Plaintiffs CIPA claims likewise “fail for the same reason.” In addition, the court found that the Plaintiffs’ SCA claims failed because “personal computers are not ‘facilities’ under the SCA.”
Finally, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ common law invasion of privacy and intrusion upon seclusion claims because Plaintiffs “have not established that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the URLs of the pages they visit,” explaining that “Plaintiffs could have taken steps to keep their browsing histories private.”
Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 15, 2017.
EPIC has a strong interest in protecting the privacy of Internet users. In particular, EPIC has challenged the growing use of advanced tracking techniques that allow companies such as Google and Facebook to track users as they go from website to website, gaining a trove of personal information on individuals that can be used to develop behavioral profiles for targeted advertising.
EPIC directly challenged the underlying conduct by Facebook at issue in this particular lawsuit. In 2009 and 2010, EPIC and a number of public interest organizations filed a series of complaints to the FTC detailing how Facebook was misrepresenting its privacy practices. EPIC’s 2010 complaint specifically highlighted how Facebook was using cookies to track users across the web, limiting users’ ability to browse the Internet anonymously. In 2011, the FTC entered into a 20-year consent order as the result of EPIC’s complaints. EPIC told the FTC in comments on the proposed settlement that the FTC should explicitly require Facebook to cease its secret, post-log out tracking of users across websites. EPIC also detailed Facebook’s use of persistent cookies to track logged-out users in a letter to the FTC.
EPIC has also filed amicus briefs challenging Facebook’s privacy-invasive practices in related cases. In Smith v. Facebook, EPIC challenged Facebook’s tracking of users’ visits to sensitive medical websites despite these websites’ representations that they would protect visitors’ privacy. And in Campbell v. Facebook, EPIC challenged a proposed class action settlement arising from Facebook’s conduct of scanning private messages.
EPIC has done extensive work in the areas of online tracking and behavioral profiling, including urging the FTC to limit the use of cross-device tracking, whereby companies track consumers across their smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other Internet-connected devices. EPIC also supports proposals such as do not track, that would address the problem of companies like Google and Facebook tracking users when they visit third-party websites.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 17-17486
- Brief for Plaintiffs-Appellants [Redacted Version] (June 18, 2018)
- EPIC Amicus Brief (June 26, 2018)
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, In re: Facebook, Inc. Internet Tracking Litigation, No. 5:12-md-02314-MJD
- First Amended Consolidated Class Action Complaint (filed May 23, 2012)
- Order Granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, 140 F. Supp. 3d 922 (N.D. cal. 2015) (filed Oct. 23, 2015)
- Order Granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss 263 F. Supp. 3d 836 (N.D. Cal. 2017) (filed Jun. 30, 2017)
- EPIC FTC Complaint: In re Google-DoubleClick (filed Apr. 20, 2007)
- EPIC FTC Complaint: In re Facebook II (filed May 5, 2010)
- FTC Consent Order: In the Matter of Facebook, Inc. (Aug. 10, 2012)
- EPIC Comments on Proposed Facebook Consent Order (Dec. 27, 2011)
- EPIC: Facebook Privacy
- EPIC: In re Facebook - Cambridge Analytica
- EPIC: Wiretap Act
- EPIC: Cookies
- EPIC: Online tracking and behavioral profiling
- Shayna Posses, Facebook Users Ask 9th Circ. to Revive Tracking Claims, Law360 (June 19, 2018)
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