FTC starts private investigation into Facebook privacy concerns

The Federal Trade Commission has confirmed it is starting a non-public investigation into Facebook over its practices regarding data harvesting and privacy.

“The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers,” said Tom Pahl, acting director the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises…”

The social media company has been embroiled in two recently uncovered scandals regarding how it allows third parties to collect and use data and how Facebook itself collects data. In the latter case, Facebook has been accused of exploiting the framework of Android app development to gain access to call and SMS metadata without requesting access from the user for the sake of targeting potential new friends for the user.

Facebook took to a press release yesterday to claim that this was always an opt-in feature for Facebook Messenger and Facebook Lite users and that the metadata, which does not include call and message contents, is never sold.

CNBC tech editor Todd Haselton, however, has spotted inconsistencies with the opt-in prompt for the feature that Facebook provided in its release and the one that was disclosed on an actual device.

Phone: Your contacts will be continuously synced so that you can see who else is on Messenger. Syncing your contacts helps friends connect on Facebook, too.

Release: Continuously upload info about your contacts like phone numbers and nicknames, and your call and text history. This lets friends find each other on Facebook and helps us create a better experience for everyone.

The differences indicate that Facebook is misleading consumers on the timeliness of the prompt and gives users the impression that the company was transparent about its metadata gathering policies all along.

Users can go to the general settings page of their Facebook account — accessed through the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the page — to download a copy of their account data and see if their messaging data was scraped up by Facebook.

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About The Author
Jules Wang
Jules Wang is News Editor for Pocketnow and one of the hosts of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast. He came onto the team in 2014 as an intern editing and producing videos and the podcast while he was studying journalism at Emerson College. He graduated the year after and entered into his current position at Pocketnow, full-time.