A collection of privacy and consumer groups from the United States and Europe has asked the Federal Trade Commission to force Facebook to suspend a recently installed program that mines information on sites that users’ visit around the Web in order to serve them interest-based ads. The groups say that Facebook’s program “directly contradicts its previous statements” about privacy and user tracking.
In June, Facebook announced a plan that changed the way it determines which ads to show users and said that the system would give people more control of their preferences on the site. The new program has raised the ire of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a coalition of consumer rights groups that includes the EFF, EPIC and Consumer Reports in the U.S. and dozens of groups in Europe. The TACD on Tuesday sent a letter to the FTC and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Europe, questioning Facebook’s intentions with the tracking program and calling on the regulators to stop the company from implementing it.
“Facebook already installs cookies and pixel tags on users’ computers to track browsing activity on Facebook.com and Facebook apps. If Facebook is permitted to expand its data collection practices, those cookies and pixel tags will also track users’ browsing activity on any website that includes a few lines of Facebook code,” the letter says.
“We urge you 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. Moreover, we ask you to publish your findings so that your investigations can be subject to a public assessment and review.”
Facebook has faced a number of challenges in the past to its advertising, privacy and tracking practices and has drawn the attention of regulators. In 2012 the company signed a consent order with the FTC as a result of a previous tracking program. The TACD’s letter asserts that the company’s new plan runs counter to its previous statement about user privacy and urges the FTC to look into whether it violates the terms of the consent order.
“Facebook has now completely reversed its stance to the detriment of users of the service. Contrary to its prior representations, upon which users may have relied, the company will now routinely monitor the web browsing activities of its users and exploit that information for advertising purposes. The FTC should examine whether Facebook’s change in business practices violates the consent order between Facebook and the FTC,” the letter says.
When it announced the new ad policy in June, Facebook said that it would enable users to control which ads they see, giving them more power over their Web experience. However, the TACD says that isn’t totally true.
“Facebook has stated that it will collect user data from third-party sites, but users will be able to ‘control which ads’ they see. This is misleading; the new data collection policy is unrelated to users’ control over Facebook’s ability to collect browsing information. In fact, the extent to which users can ‘control the privacy of any covered information maintained by’ Facebook is determined by their third- party opt-out cookie. Users cannot control the data collection that results in targeted advertising; users can only control how much targeted advertising they must look at,” the letter says.