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Facebook Privacy Changes Spark Federal Complaint

BARBARA ORTUTAY   12/17/09 03:47 PM ET   AP

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NEW YORK — A Washington-based privacy advocacy group and nine other organizations have filed a complaint against Facebook over the social network's latest privacy changes.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center said Thursday it has asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the changes Facebook has made to its users' privacy settings and to force Facebook to restore its old privacy safeguards.

The changes, unveiled last week, include treating users' names, profile photo, friends list, gender and other data as publicly available information.

The complaint says the changes diminish user privacy by disclosing personal information to the public that was previously restricted.

Among the groups joining EPIC in its complaint are the American Library Association, the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Digital Democracy.

Facebook said it discussed the changes with regulators, including the FTC, before making them and that it is disappointed "that EPIC has chosen to share their concerns with the FTC while refusing to talk to us about them."

This is not the first time, and likely not the last, that Facebook is challenged over how it treats the vast amounts of information it gets from its 350 million users.

This year, Canada's privacy commissioner accused the social network of disclosing personal information about users to the hundreds of thousands of outside developers worldwide who create Facebook applications. In August, Facebook agreed to give users more control over such sharing.

In September, the company finally shut down its much-maligned Beacon marketing program, which launched two years ago amid fanfare only to generate a storm of privacy complaints over the tracking of user activities at partner Web sites.

Facebook had agreed to create a foundation to promote online privacy, safety and security as part of a $9.5 million settlement in a lawsuit over the program.

The FTC confirmed it has received the complaint but had no other comment.

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Filed by Bianca Bosker  |