Entries in FTC (4)


Facebook Privacy: Does Site Track Users After They've Logged Off?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg smiled broadly as he introduced the site's new Timeline and Ticker features -- "all your stories, all your apps, a new way to express who you are," he said.

But how much of who you are do you really want to share, and with whom? Two congressmen and 10 public advocacy groups have now urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook tracks users' online movements even after they log off the site. A class-action suit (Davis v. Facebook) has been filed as well in Federal District Court in San Jose, Calif.

Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairmen of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, wrote to the FTC: "We believe that tracking users without their knowledge or consent raises serious privacy concerns. When users log out of Facebook, they are under the impression that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality."

Facebook said the issue was overblown. The social media behemoth did concede, though, that it found that three of its "cookies" -- small files a website leaves in your computer when you visit -- "inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook," according to Andrew Noyes, Facebook's manager of public policy communications, in Washington. "However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users," he said in an email to ABC News.

As for the lawsuit, "We believe this suit is completely without merit, and we will fight it vigorously."

Facebook's explanation of what happened didn't go over well with EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has often locked horns with the managers of major websites. It said Facebook was using "supercookies" -- more troublesome than the regular cookies used by most commercial websites.

EPIC said Facebook did not take any action until an Australian blogger, Nik Cubrilovic, posted about the tracking after a year of questioning the company about it. And it said the new Timeline and Ticker -- which Facebook hopes will allow "frictionless" sharing with friends -- may cause users accidental embarrassment, even if the company means well.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FTC Considers 'Do Not Track' Setting to Stop Online Data Mining

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- People concerned that every move they make on the Internet is being followed by advertising networks have an ally in the Federal Trade Commission, which supports tougher restrictions on online data gathering.  The FTC Wednesday endorsed a “Do Not Track” setting in browsers that would enable users to block online ad companies from gathering information on them.

Despite the industry’s insistence that it can police its own actions, the head of the nation’s top consumer protection agency says he doesn’t believe it.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz charged that “industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection.”

An effort called the National Advertising Initiative, which supposedly allows users to opt out of advertising networks that track their movements, hasn’t been successful, according to Leibowitz.  Therefore, the FTC proposed a user-friendly “do not track” option that enables people to tell any website not to track them for advertising purposes.  Leibovitz wants browser makers such as Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple to devise “do not track” technology for its customers.

Since the idea is in the planning stages, much needs to be worked out in the meantime, including whether the government can force the online advertising industry to comply without congressional action.´╗┐

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Feds Target Computer 'Cookies,' 'Beacons' as Affront to Privacy

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government is pushing on several fronts to limit those increasingly powerful tracking bugs -- so-called "cookies" or "beacons" -- that lurk on computers and follow consumers around the Internet. For all the brutal partisan fighting of recent months, there is a growing consensus in Washington that the web-monitoring cookies installed in people's computers by most commercial websites are a major problem. But to what extent the solution requires new laws and more regulation is an open question.

The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing one possible approach: creating something akin to the "Do Not Call" list for telemarketers that would let consumers choose to forbid companies from spying on their online movements. An FTC official said the agency was looking into "whether it's even doable technologically." That approach would require an act of Congress.

The Commerce Department is preparing to open another front, putting the finishing touches on a government-wide plan that would create a new Privacy Policy Office. As outlined in a speech last month by Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Strickling, the new office would bring Internet companies to the table with government agencies and privacy advocates to develop "voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct."

The White House already has created a new task force -- the Subcommittee on Privacy and Internet Policy -- with the stated goal "of fostering consensus in legislative, regulatory, and international Internet policy realms." The group will help implement the Commerce Department's plan that has been in the works for seven months.

But some privacy advocates question whether Commerce is committed to consumer protection.

"Having Commerce involved with the privacy issue is the digital fox running the data collection hen house," said Jeff Chester, CEO of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Commerce is not a pro-consumer agency. It works on behalf of business interests. I have real concerns about the direction Commerce wants to go."

Chester plans to meet soon with the new White House task force to share his view that the Federal Trade Commission should be the lead agency in the online privacy fight.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


FTC to Consider Online 'Do Not Track' Marketing List

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Trade Commission is considering a proposal that would make it illegal for companies to trade private information about young people who don't consent to online tracking by marketers.

The proposal, along with the suggestion for an online "do not track" list, will be part of an upcoming report.

A Zogby International poll released Friday found that 92 percent of parents fear their children were sharing too much information online, and that 85 percent of parents were more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago.

It also found that 91 percent of parents think search engines and social networking sites should not be able to share kids' physical locations with other companies until parents give authorization.

Zogby surveyed 2,100 parents and 401 teens between the ages of 15 and 18. The poll was conducted between Aug. 13 and 20.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio´╗┐

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