Facebook sued over December change in privacy practices

In a post earlier this week, we noted that generally speaking, anyone in the U.S. wanting to take legal action over the privacy practices of social networking sites like Facebook would have to do so within the boundaries of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s rules on unfair and deceptive trade practices. Two cases, both seeking class-action status, have now been filed in federal district court in California, alleging that Facebook’s recent changes are deceptive. It’s not at all clear that these charges have merit, especially in light of the explicit language Facebook has long has posted within its terms of service that basically reserve the right to make any changes it wants as long as it notifies users. Facebook users who don’t agree with that policy or the scope of changes that the company seems to like to make under cover of the policy certainly have the option not to use Facebook. The point is that the legal avenues to go after Facebook are somewhat limited, so the apparent approach being followed in these lawsuits is logical from that standpoint. More troubling for the plaintiffs may be the charge that Facebook’s privacy settings are too detailed and spread out, making them confusing.

These formal legal actions come on the heels of prior complaints filed with the FTC by EPIC and other consumer and privacy advocates about Facebook and its new privacy settings. Based on initial responses to EPIC by FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection chief David Vladeck, the complaints are at least getting attention from the feds, even if no formal investigation has been initiated.