Groups Join Legal Battle to Fight Ineffective FTC Privacy Decision on Facebook

By: Jeff Chester | Jul 26 2019
Statements from Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, CDD, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Open Markets, Public Citizen, USPIRG

FOR RELEASE

July 26, 2019

Consumer Privacy Organizations to Challenge Facebook Settlement

Statement from Groups

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“The Settlement Fails to Provide Meaningful Relief to Facebook Users”

WASHINGTON, DC – Many of the nation’s leading consumer privacy organizations are urging a federal court in Washington, DC to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook.

“The Facebook settlement is both historic and controversial. Many believe the FTC failed to establish meaningful safeguards for consumer privacy. We believe the court overseeing the case should consider the views of interested parties,” said Marc Rotenberg, President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook will pay a record-breaking $5 b fine to the United States Treasury, but there will be no significant changes in Facebook’s business practices and the FTC will release all pending complaints against the company.

Typically in a proposed FTC settlement, the public would be provided an opportunity to provide comments to the agency before finalizing the deal. But no such opportunity was provided in the Facebook settlement.

Many of the organizations that are joining the effort have also filed detailed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Facebook has violated privacy laws, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  A Freedom of Information Act case revealed that there are more than 26,000 complaints against Facebook currently pending at the Commission.

In a similar case in 2012, the privacy group Consumer Watchdog challenged the FTC settlement with Google regarding the Safari hack. In other consumer privacy cases, courts have created opportunities for interested parties to file papers and be heard prior to a final determination on a proposed settlement.

The case is In the Matter of Facebook, No. 19-cv-2184 (D.D.C. Filed July 24, 2019)

EPIC filed with the court today: https://epic.org/2019/07/epic-challenges-ftc-facebook-s.html

Statements of Support:

Brandi Collins-Dexter, Senior Campaign Director, Color of Change, “Despite the large price tag, the FTC settlement provides no meaningful changes to Facebook’s structure or financial incentives. It allows Facebook to continue to set its own limits on how much user data it can collect and it gives Facebook immunity for unspecified violations. The public has a right to know what laws Facebook violated. Corporations should face consequences for violating the public trust, not be given a rubber stamp to carry out business as usual. This settlement limits the ability of Black users to challenge Facebook’s misuse of their data and force real accountability which is why the courts must review the fairness of this settlement.”

Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Consumer Federation of America: “The FTC’s settlement with Facebook sells consumers short by failing to change the company’s mass surveillance practices and wiping away other complaints that deserved to be addressed. It needs to be stronger to truly protect our privacy.”  

Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities, Consumer Action: “The FTC’s pending Facebook settlement does not take adequate measures to limit the collection and sharing of consumers’ personal information, but appears to provide the company with extensive protections from even future violations.  Consumer Action respectfully urges the court to consider positions from interested parties who have related complaints filed with the FTC to ensure that the most fair and comprehensive agreement is approved.”

Sally Hubbard, Director of Enforcement Strategy, Open Markets.  “The FTC’s settlement is woefully insufficient in light of Facebook’s persistent privacy violations. The fine is a mere cost of doing business that makes breaking the law worth it for Facebook. Remedies must curb Facebook’s widespread data collection and promote competition. Otherwise Facebook will continue to fortify its monopoly power by surveilling users both on Facebook and off, and users can’t vote with their feet when Facebook violates their privacy. The public must have the opportunity to be heard on this negligent settlement."

Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen: “The FTC's settlement amounts to Facebook promising yet again to adhere to its own privacy policy, while reserving the right to change that policy at any time. That approach will fail to protect users' privacy. The court should reject the settlement and order the FTC to try again and do better.”

Josh Golin, Executive Director, Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood: “Facebook has been exploiting kids for years, and this proposed settlement is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card. It potentially extinguishes our children's privacy complaints against Facebook, but offers absolutely no protections for kids' privacy moving forward. It also sweeps under the rug a complaint detailing how Facebook knowingly and intentionally tricked kids into spending money on mobile games over several years, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars per child.”

James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media: "On behalf of families across the country, Common Sense fully stands behind EPIC's motion.  The proposed settlement is a "get out of jail free" card for Facebook, purporting to absolve Facebook not only of liability for privacy abuses but for other -- completely unaddressed and unexplored -- Section 5 abuses. One such abuse that the FTC is aware of and that court documents confirm includes tricking kids into making in-app purchases that have put families out hundreds and even thousands of dollars —something the company has yet to meaningfully change its policies on to this day. Such a broad release is unprecedented, unjustified and unacceptable."

Edmund Mierzwinski, Senior Director for Federal Consumer Programs, U.S. PIRG: "This laughable $5 billion settlement with the category-killer social media giant Facebook makes the much smaller Equifax settlement for sloppy security look harsh. Facebook intentionally collects and shares an ever-growing matrix of information about consumers, their friends and their interests in a mass surveillance business model. It routinely changes its previous privacy promises without consent. It doesn't adequately audit its myriad business partners. The FTC essentially said to Facebook: "Pay your parking ticket but don't ever change. Your fast-and-loose practices are okay with 3 of the 5 of us." Not changing those practices will come back to haunt the FTC, consumers and the world.”

Jeff Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy:  "The 3-2 Facebook decision by the FTC leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to all the problems unleashed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  The commission adopted a woefully inadequate remedy that does nothing to stem the fundamental loss of its user privacy which led to our original 2009 complaint."

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