Facebook makes changes to its data-use policies

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, The Washington Post.

Facebook moved ahead Friday with changes to its privacy policies that make it clear that the company can include users' profile pictures, location and other personal information in advertisements.

But the social networking company deleted a controversial line, originally proposed in August, stating that it assumes that teens on the site have obtained permission from their parents or guardians.

The changes did little to quell critics who say Facebook continues to expand the scope of data the network collects from users. And, they said, the deletion of the line on teens did not clarify whether the company would continue to track their behavior inappropriately on the site.

"Corporations like Facebook should not be profiting from the personal and sensitive information of children and teens, and parents and teens should have the right to control their personal information online," Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Friday.

Facebook, which laid out the new policies on the company's official blog, said the additional language did not represent anything new in the way it collects data.

Chief privacy officer Erin Egan said Friday that the language concerning teens was meant to get children and parents to discuss the terms of use. "[We] were not seeking and would not have gained additional rights as a result of this addition," she said. Given the response, however, Egan said that Facebook decided it was best to omit the sentence.

After the policy changes were proposed in August, about half a dozen privacy groups wrote to Edith Ramirez, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, asking her to investigate whether the updates had violated an agreement between Facebook and the agency. Finalized last year, that settlement prohibited Facebook from making material changes to its policies without notifying users.

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, Markey introduced a bill that would explicitly prohibit companies from collecting data on children ages 13 to 15. (Children under 13 are not allowed on Facebook and other social media sites under privacy laws).

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said getting rid of the teen provision is a modest victory for privacy advocates. But he said he was disappointed to see the social network proceed with the broader changes.

"It still leaves the larger problem that the site is working more with data brokers and collecting more geolocation information. We believe [these practices] require new safeguards."