Exploring_Media_and_Culture_Ch15 - P a g e | 1031 Chapter 15 Media and Government Facebook Versus the FTC Figure 15.1 In May 2010 the social networking

Exploring_Media_and_Culture_Ch15 - P a g e | 1031 Chapter...

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P a g e | 1031 Chapter 15 Media and Government Facebook Versus the FTC Figure 15.1. In May 2010, the social networking website Facebook was thrown into the news when its chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, announced new changes to the site’s privacy policy. Although the announcement alone did not necessarily garner heavy attention from the news media, the involvement of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ramped up public interest. The previous month, several watchdog groups had sent letters to Congress and the FTC asking for an investigation of Facebook’s privacy policy. The letters attacked the site’s privacy
P a g e | 1032 policies, which dated from December 2009 and had been designed to provide users more control over privacy settings. However, PC Magazine noted, “given Facebook’s move toward a more open format as it integrates status updates with search engines like Google and Bing, the site encouraged its users to make more of their data public, and made some of the default settings more open.” 1 Essentially, Facebook provides three default options for sharing information: with “everyone,” “friends of friends,” or “friends only.” Zuckerberg explained the privacy policy by saying, We recommended that there be large pieces of information in each of these buckets. For friends only, that’s all of the really sensitive stuff. For friends of friends, it could be who can see the photos and videos of you, which is actually the majority of the content people share on the site. And then for everyone, it’s basic information and status updates and posts like that. 2 Concern grew that some of Facebook’s default privacy settings allowed everyone, regardless of their level of connection to a user, to access some personal information. In their open letter to Congress, privacy watchdog groups addressed these concerns by stating, “Facebook continues to manipulate the privacy settings of users and its own policy so that it can take personal information provided by users for a limited purpose and make it widely available for commercial purposes…. The company has done this repeatedly and users are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated.” 3 The FTC is a congressional commission designed to oversee and enforce consumer protections. Despite—or perhaps because of—this stated goal, the FTC’s lack of involvement in Facebook’s privacy settings frustrated many individuals; one letter to Congress “openly worried that the FTC either lacked the power or the motivation to pursue questions of privacy at Facebook.” In light of users’ outrage, the letter asked the FTC to get involved. 4 The FTC responded that the issue was of “particular interest” to them, but as of this
P a g e | 1033 writing, no official action has been taken.

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