TECH
02/23/2011 05:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Facebook Responds To FTC's Privacy Plans

In its 29-page response to the Federal Trade Commission's proposal for protecting privacy online, Facebook offered one of the most comprehensive looks to date at its stance on privacy and how the company believes the issue will -- and should -- evolve.

While acknowledging that government regulation ought to play a role in safeguarding user information on the Internet, Facebook argued in the response that web companies should be principally self-regulated so as not to stifle innovation. The company said it agreed with the FTC that greater transparency and the option of "context-sensitive privacy protections," or what the FTC had called "privacy by design," were important, but stressed the importance of taking into account individuals' evolving perceptions of privacy.

The Facebook comment argued that the company is obliged by user demand to respect individual privacy. "For Facebook -- like most other online service providers -- getting this balance right is a matter of survival," wrote Michael Richter, Facebook's chief privacy counsel, in the comment. "If Facebook fails to protect the privacy of its users adequately, those users will lose trust in Facebook and will stop using the service."

But Facebook has a long history of inciting user outrage about perceived privacy violations.

Over the past several years, Facebook has repeatedly been the target of criticism when it has instituted privacy policies that make users uncomfortable and which members fear will threaten their personal information.

It has, at times, been tone deaf in recognizing members' privacy expectations. For example, scores of users threatened to quit Facebook after the site unveiled new privacy policies that would enable the social network to collect information on all the Facebook-connected web pages users visited while logged into Facebook.

Facebook spun previous user outcry against its privacy policies into evidence that it has been responsive in "self-correct[ing]" and adjusting to users feedback. Its willingness to change course when confronted with criticism should help the FTC to see that "private-sector efforts are particularly well suited for solving privacy-related problems on the Internet," Facebook argued.

"Facebook's efforts to engage with its users on changes to its privacy policy or information sharing practices are virtually unparalleled in the industry," the company statement said. "We are the only major online service provider that allows users to vote on the changes if comments reach a pre-set threshold ... Time and again, Facebook has shown itself capable of correcting course in response to user feedback and thereby continuing to build trust."

Read the full text of Facebook's comments to the FTC here or below. What do you make of their response?

Facebook emphasized the need to take into account "the way users' expectations shift over time." Have your privacy expectations changed?

Facebook Comments: Preliminary FTC Staff Report on Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change