EPIC criticizes Facebook over Timeline launch

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is criticizing Facebook for its Timeline launch. It believes Facebook should have gotten user consent before giving them the new profile.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is unhappy with the way Facebook launched its new Timeline profile. The privacy organization believes Facebook went too far because it started rolling out the redesign without asking users first.

Facebook yesterday started rolling out its new Timeline profile, which was unveiled three months ago at the company's 2011 f8 developer conference. We're talking about a global launch, both on desktop and mobile.

EPIC described Facebook's launch by saying the social networking giant is posting "archived user information" so as to make "old posts available under Facebook's current downgraded privacy settings" all "without user consent." Furthermore, the group noted "users have just a week to clean up their history before Timeline goes live."

EPIC said Timeline was a "surprising announcement" given that last month Facebook settled with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over default privacy settings made in December 2009 and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg followed up with a commitment to privacy. EPIC was the privacy group that spearheaded the original complaint filed against Facebook at the FTC.

EPIC also incorrectly said the FTC found Facebook had engaged in "unfair and deceptive" trade practices. While it's true that the FTC claimed Facebook had been unfair and deceptive, and had violated federal law, the organization specifically noted that it made a consent agreement with Facebook, meaning it was for settlement purposes only. The FTC underlined the settlement "does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been violated." It's important to note the distinction between the FTC charging Facebook with doing something illegal and the FTC settling with Facebook.

In either case, when the settlement was announced, the FTC said consumers must be given clear and prominent notice in advance, if such privacy changes are to occur again. Facebook must obtain consumers' express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established.

EPIC argues that Facebook has broken its promise with the Timeline launch. Timeline does not change anything about privacy settings: it simply lets Facebook users more easily show (or completely hide) content they previously posted to the social network.

From my understanding, Timeline has nothing to do with privacy settings. I may be wrong, however, so I have contacted Facebook and will update this story if I hear back.

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