Facebook Amends Privacy Policy by Removing Line on Minors

Facebook Inc. (FB) removed language about how teens’ content on the website can be used in advertisements as the company finalized changes to its user privacy policies.

The updates, proposed in August, aimed to provide simpler guidelines on how the world’s largest social-networking company uses names, profile pictures and other data in online promotions. At the time, Facebook included a sentence that said minors will verify that a parent or guardian had consented to them being part of such ads.

The provision drew criticism from consumer-advocacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy, which argued Facebook could use it to broaden its marketing practices with minors. In September, the groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission stating that Facebook’s proposed updates would eviscerate any meaningful limits on the “exploitation” of the teens’ content.

In a blog post yesterday, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said the sentence didn’t confer any additional rights to the company and added that it received feedback “that the language was confusing.” As a result, she wrote, “we removed the sentence.”

Facebook is stepping up efforts to show it is taking concerns about privacy and data usage seriously as it seeks to keep its more than 1 billion users active on the service. The Menlo Park, California-based company has faced several firestorms over its data practices, given the amount of information it has on its members.

FTC Settlement

In 2011, Facebook agreed to a settlement with the FTC over complaints that it failed to protect members’ privacy or disclose how their data could be used. Under the agreement, Facebook is barred from making any deceptive claims about its privacy procedures and also must undergo independent reviews of the practices.

The new policies reflect the agreements laid out in a settlement earlier this year over a user lawsuit about the company’s “Sponsored Stories” ads, which access users’ names and other data to help create the promotions. The lawsuit alleged Facebook appropriated the names, photographs and identities of people to advertise products without their permission.

The changed user privacy policies are now in effect, Facebook said in yesterday’s post. The company also added new language about how it might use profile pictures when suggesting who to tag in a photo, the company said.

‘Clarifying Edits’

“We proposed these changes because we thought we could improve the way we explain our policies,” Egan said in the post. “But your feedback was clear -- we can do better -- and it led to a number of clarifying edits.”

Even with the updates, users are still grappling with how complicated Facebook’s settings and policies are, said Adi Kamdar, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We’re seeing a trend of social networks starting to use consumer information for advertising purposes and one of the most important facets of privacy is control,” Kamdar said. “This move shows Facebook is probably listening, but it’s still not as obvious as we want it to be.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net; Sarah Frier in New York at sfrier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net

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