PhotoOver 20 public health, media, youth, and consumer advocacy groups have written to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) objecting to Facebook’s recent proposed changes to its privacy policy. The groups raised concerns about the potential negative impact of these changes on teens, saying the changes would expose teens to the same problematic data collection and sophisticated ad-targeted practices that adults currently face.

“The FTC, which has acknowledged that teens require special privacy safeguards, must act now to limit the ways in which Facebook collects data and engages in targeted marketing directed at adolescents,” the organizations say in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

The groups—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, Consumer Watchdog, Pediatrics Now, and the National Collaboration for Youth—challenged changes to the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” that give Facebook permission to use, for commercial purposes, the name, profile picture, actions, and other information concerning its teen users.

"Unfair terms"

The groups also objected to new language directed at 13-to-17-year-old users that states that teens “represent that at least one of their guardians or parents have given consent for this use of their personal information on their behalf.”

“[The FTC] should prevent Facebook from imposing unfair terms on teens and their parents that place them in a position of having to say they secured informed, affirmative consent from a parent or guardian,” the letter said. 

“These new changes should raise alarms among parents and any groups concerned about the welfare of teens using Facebook,” said Joy Spencer, who runs the Center for Digital Democracy’s digital marketing and youth project. “By giving itself permission to use the name, profile picture and other content of teens as it sees fit for commercial purposes, Facebook will bring to bear the full weight of a very powerful marketing apparatus to teen social networks.”

Dr. Gwenn O’Keefe at Pediatrics Now also expressed concern. “Given the number of teens who are legally on Facebook and pre-teens who are on there posing as teens,” she declared, “it’s in everyone’s interest that Facebook create an environment that is appropriate and healthy for the development of teens.”

Consent decree

Citing the FTC’s 2011 Consent Decree with Facebook, the letter asked the agency to hold Facebook accountable, redress the changes, and protect the interests of teens.

Facebook recently settled a class-action lawsuit about sponsored stories by promising to change some of the language in its terms of service, in order to reflect how the program operates. Among other revisions, Facebook said it would add language requiring minors to represent that their parents agreed to the terms of service -- including the use of their children's names and photos in sponsored stories ads. 

Facebook also said it would give users more control over their appearance in sponsored stories, and would pay $15 each to around 600,000 people who objected to their appearance in prior sponsored-stories advertisements.

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