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Privacy Groups Pressure FTC After Latest Revelations About Facebook’s Data Sharing

December 19, 2018, 7:30 PM UTC

Privacy groups called on the Federal Trade Commission to punish Facebook and for Congress to enact tougher privacy laws after the social network reportedly shared users’ personal data with more than 150 companies.

Facebook gave information like users’ friends and private messages to companies including Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The news raises questions about whether Facebook misled consumers about the kind of information it shares with third parties.

The revelation is just the latest in a long list of public relations disaster for Facebook, including its recent disclosure of a data breach involving 50 million users. Additionally, the company has been intensely criticized for letting Russians spread misinformation on its service and for failing to stop political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica from harvesting information from 50 million Facebook profiles to influence the 2016 election. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In light of the most recent New York Times report, privacy groups asked the FTC to intervene and for stronger privacy laws. The groups point to a settlement that Facebook signed with the FTC in 2011 that required the social network to maintain a comprehensive program to protect user privacy. In the order, Facebook promised to “clearly and prominently” tell users what information it is sharing with third parties as well as identify those third parties.

Here’s what the privacy groups said:

Electronic Privacy Information Center

“We thought we had won a significant victory, but the FTC failed to enforce the order, and we lived to face the consequences, said Marc Rotenberg, the group’s president and executive director. “Our criticism is of the FTC. We knew a decade ago what the problems were with Facebook. … We thought we had stopped that 10 years ago. … They haven’t found a single violation in seven years, which is just remarkable.”

Center for Digital Democracy

“We long called on the FTC to enforce its consent decree with both Facebook and Google,” said Jeffrey Chester, the group’s executive director. “Both of these giant platforms have a web of lucrative partnerships with leading brands and advertisers, which helps them gain access to data and insights on individuals.”

Center for Democracy & Technology

“We’ve put forth a proposal for federal privacy legislation that moves beyond the traditional approach of notice and consent, and creates affirmative obligations for data protection,” said Michelle Richardson, director of the group’s data and privacy project. “We hope it drives progress towards the passage of a new privacy law in the coming year.” She also tweeted what new legislation might look like: “CDTs bill would: Clarify diff[erence] between service providers/3rd parties, give you names of all 3rd parties accessing your data, prohibit many of these secondary uses, allow you to delete, and most importantly: there is no box you can check to waive these rights.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation

“We are deeply concerned by the latest report that Facebook has once again put its profits over our privacy,” the group said in a statement. “Facebook should not be sharing users’ private data with its business partners without users’ knowledge and freely given, specific, unambiguous consent. This latest revelation underscores the need to strengthen data privacy laws … to ensure users can hold companies accountable.”