Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook pressed ahead Friday with changes to its privacy policies, first proposed in August, that make it clear that users’ postings on the service and other personal data can be used in advertising on the site.

But the company deleted controversial language that had declared that any teenager using the service was presumed to have gotten parental permission for their data to be used in advertising. The company says it already has that permission from other terms of use.

The proposed changes drew an outcry from many users, some privacy groups and members of Congress, and prompted the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize the company’s plans.

“Your feedback was clear — we can do better — and it led to a number of clarifying edits,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the final version of the policies, which went into effect immediately.

The edits don’t change what Facebook’s policy is regarding use of teenagers’ or anyone else’s personal information in ads and is unlikely to mollify critics.

The new terms of use do not affect a separate change that the company announced last month that allows teenagers to post status updates, videos and images that can be seen by anyone, not just their friends or people who know their friends.

All of the changes fit a broader pattern: Facebook is pushing its users to share more data while also making that information more widely available. For example, a post that was made years ago and long forgotten can now be unearthed through Facebook’s graph search tool.

And public comments about, say, a hot television show or the Affordable Care Act could suddenly show up on TV as Facebook works with broadcasters to showcase the conversations that are happening on the service.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with 1.2 billion monthly users, and its privacy practices always draw a great deal of attention.

Facebook insisted all along that it was not actually changing any policies but simply clarifying its existing practices.

One of its most important advertising products, called sponsored stories, involves rebroadcasting user posts praising a company’s product to their friends.

So if someone posted “Just had a great seafood feast at Red Lobster” or even just clicked ‘like’ on the chain’s Facebook page, the restaurant company might pay to make sure that endorsement showed up high in the news feeds of that person’s friends.

Facebook said it had changed the language in its terms of use partly in response to a class-action lawsuit against the company, settled in August, that alleged that it had not properly disclosed to users how their comments about products and other personal information would show up in ads.

While Facebook has clarified its disclosures, it has not acted on two other important provisions of the settlement that would give users more control over how their information is used in sponsored stories.

One provision requires the company to give parents the ability to prevent their children’s information from being used in such advertising.

The other would allow all users to see if Facebook had turned any comments they had made on the service into a sponsored story ad and allow them to opt out of future broadcasting of that ad.

The company said it was still working on building those tools and offered no timetable for rolling them out.


It is unclear whether Facebook’s latest terms of use were blessed by the FTC. The regulatory agency began an inquiry into the matter after a coalition of privacy groups and Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., complained, saying the new terms could violate a 2011 consent decree between Facebook and the FTC requiring the company to get explicit consent from users before showing their personal information to new audiences.

Facebook’s use of teenagers’ information in ads is particularly sensitive for privacy advocates, who say that children are especially vulnerable to marketing messages and are more likely to respond to endorsements from friends.

In the August draft of its rules, Facebook added this sentence to the section about sponsored story ads: “If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.”

That sentence is now gone.

“This language was about getting a conversation started; we were not seeking and would not have gained any additional rights as a result of this addition. We received feedback, though, that the language was confusing and so we removed the sentence.”