May 082012
 
 May 8, 2012  Business, Featured News, Govt, Online

Social networking service Myspace has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it misrepresented its protection of users’ personal information. The settlement, part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts make sure companies live up to the privacy promises they make to consumers, bars Myspace from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy assessments for the next 20 years.

The Myspace social network has millions of users who create and customize online profiles containing substantial personalized content. Myspace assigns a persistent unique identifier, called a “Friend ID,” to each profile created on Myspace. A user’s profile publicly discloses his or her age, gender, profile picture (if the user chooses to include one), display name, and, by default, the user’s full name. User profiles also may contain additional information such as pictures, hobbies, interests, and lists of users’ friends.

Myspace’s privacy policy promised it would not share users personally identifiable information, or use such information in a way that was inconsistent with the purpose for which it was submitted, without first giving notice to users and receiving their permission to do so. The privacy policy also promised that the information used to customize ads would not individually identify users to third parties and would not share non-anonymized browsing activity.

Despite the promises contained in its privacy policy, the FTC charged, Myspace provided advertisers with the Friend ID of users who were viewing particular pages on the site. Advertisers could use the Friend ID to locate a user’s Myspace profile to obtain personal information publicly available on the profile and, in most instances, the user’s full name. Advertisers also could combine the user’s real name and other personal information with additional information to link broader web-browsing activity to a specific individual. The agency charged that the deceptive statements in its privacy policy violated federal law.

In addition, Myspace certified that it complied with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States. As part of its self-certification, Myspace claimed that it complied with the Safe Harbor Principles, including the requirements that consumers be given notice of how their information will be used and the choice to opt out. The FTC alleged that these statements were false.

The proposed settlement order bars Myspace from misrepresenting the extent to which it protects the privacy of users’ personal information or the extent to which it belongs to or complies with any privacy, security or other compliance program, including the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework. The order also requires that Myspace establish a comprehensive privacy program designed to protect consumers’ information, and to obtain biennial assessments of its privacy program by independent, third-party auditors for 20 years.

Source: FTC

Related: In the Matter of Myspace LLC FTC File No. 102 3058

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