FTC planning to create Internet privacy framework

In the wake of privacy concerns expressed by four U.S. senators about Facebook’s decision to change the way it shares user data with third parties, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it plans to create a regulatory framework of Internet privacy guidelines that would constrain data sharing practices among many types of online businesses, including social networking sites. In a press release posted on his official website, Senator Charles Schumer of New York urged the FTC to provide guidance to social networking sites to prevent the sort of changes in handling of personal information recently implemented by Facebook with the launch of several new services. Schumer seems particularly upset that Facebook now makes public some data that users may have previously kept private through the site’s privacy settings, and did so without users’ consent (there is an opt-out provision, but by default the data is now disclosed, regardless of whatever privacy settings had been in place previously). There are of course very few existing privacy regulations that come into play for social networking sites — aside from those like COPPA that govern personal data collection from children under 13 — particularly since the companies don’t typically have commercial transactional relationships with their users. Schumer wants the FTC to take a close look at the privacy practices employed by Facebook and similar sites under its statutory authority to enforce unfair and deceptive trade practice rules, but he and the other senator are also advocating the development of new privacy regulations that would apply specifically to social networking sites. He went so far as to say if the FTC believes it lacks the authority to specify and enforce privacy practices of social network operators, he would “support them in obtaining the tools and authority to do just that.”