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Facebook’s E-Mail Switch Merits FTC Review, Group Says

The Washington-based advocacy group that triggered U.S. scrutiny of Facebook Inc.’s privacy practices asked the Federal Trade Commission to review the company’s shift to displaying default e-mail addresses for its users.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote the FTC today urging the agency to investigate Facebook’s decision to display e-mail addresses under the ‘Contacts Info’ section of users’ profiles.

“Not only did the company falsely represent to users that they would be able to choose whether to adopt the e-mail address as their default address, by substituting the company’s own e-mail service for the e-mail service preferred by the user,” the company has placed users’ e-mail on its own servers, giving it control over and access to the private communications of Facebook users, the privacy group said in its letter to the commissioners

“People are upset about this,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in an interview. “There is a big problem with users being forced to default to Facebook’s e-mail.”

Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, said the company has been “updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site.”

“In addition to everyone receiving an address, we’re also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their timelines,” Noyes said in an e-mailed statement, referring to a feature for sharing information introduced in September 2011.

Default E-Mail

Facebook announced it planned to implement the default e-mail addresses in an April 12 blogpost.

Cecelia Prewett, an FTC spokeswoman, said no one at the agency had received the letter.

The FTC could include the e-mail issue in its pending settlement order with Facebook over changes to its privacy settings that stemmed from a 2009 complaint filed by the group, Rotenberg said.

The agency could also initiate a separate investigation using its authority to proceed against “unfair and deceptive” practices, he added.

Facebook and the FTC announced a consent decree in November to settle the agency’s complaints that the social network had failed to protect users’ privacy or disclose how their data could be used.

The proposed 20-year agreement, which is awaiting final approval by the commission, would require Facebook to get clear consent from users before sharing material posted under earlier, more restrictive terms, the FTC said at the time. It would also compel independent reviews of Facebook’s privacy practices.

The FTC is stepping up enforcement of privacy requirements at Internet companies and last year also settled complaints with Google Inc. and Twitter Inc.

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