EPIC v. FTC

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  • Federal Trade Commission Approves Settlement with Uber: The Federal Trade Commission finalized a settlement with Uber after the company failed to implement reasonable security measures and allowed employees to access customers' personal information. Because of Uber's lax security practice, the company was breached twice, exposing vast amounts of sensitive information. The settlement follows on the heels of Uber's settlement with the attorneys general of all fifty states and the District of Columbia for failing to notify users of Uber's second breach in 2016. EPIC wrote to the FTC in May, urging the Commission to strengthen its existing settlement with Uber. The Commission responded directly to several of EPIC's suggestions, which included mandating cybersecurity and privacy requirements. Commissioner Chopra also agreed with EPIC that "the Commission should make required audits and assessments public." EPIC's 2015 complaint with the FTC regarding Uber's abuse of personal data led to a previous FTC settlement with Uber. EPIC has also proposed a privacy law for Uber and other similar transportation companies. (Oct. 29, 2018)
  • EPIC v. FTC: EPIC Obtains Facebook-FTC Emails About 2011 Consent Order: In response to EPIC's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the FTC has released agency emails about the 2011 Facebook Consent Order. Following a detailed complaint by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations, the FTC issued an order in 2011 that required biennial audits of Facebook's privacy practices. EPIC pursued public release of these reports and related emails to understand why the FTC failed to bring an enforcement action action against the company. Today the FTC released to EPIC 89 emails between the FTC and Facebook from the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In March 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica data breach, the FTC announced it was reopening the Facebook investigation. To date, there is still no announcement, no report, and no fine. (Oct. 19, 2018)
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  • EPIC v. FTC: EPIC Obtains Emails about Facebook Audits » (Oct. 15, 2018)
    In response to EPIC's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the FTC has released communications about Facebook's biennial audits. The audits are required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook, which followed a detailed complaint by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations. The emails show that the FTC had concerns about the scope of Facebook's 2015 assessment, stating "PwC's report does not demonstrate whether and how Facebook addressed the impact of acquisitions on its Privacy Program." In other email, the FTC expressed similar concerns about the 2017 assessment and whether the audit evaluated the company's acquisitions impact on Facebook's privacy program. EPIC had previously opposed Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and submitted detailed comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. In March 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica breach, the FTC announced it was reopening the Facebook investigation, but still there is no announcement, no report, and no fine.
  • Consumer and Privacy Organizations Propose Framework for U.S. Data Protection » (Oct. 9, 2018)
    EPIC joined a group of twelve consumer and privacy organizations that submitted a statement to the Senate Commerce Committee in advance of a consumer privacy hearing. The groups outlined a draft framework for data protection in the U.S., advocating that Congress (1) enact baseline federal data protection legislation; (2) limit government access to personal data; (3) establish algorithmic transparency and end discriminatory profiling; (4) prohibit “take it or leave it” and other unfair terms; (5) ensure robust enforcement; (6) promote privacy innovation; and (7) establish a data protection agency. EPIC also submitted a statement to the Committee that highlighted recent breaches at Google and Facebook and the FTC's failure to enforce its own consent orders.
  • FTC to Explore Competition and Consumer Protection Issues at Hearings this Week » (Sep. 12, 2018)
    The FTC is holding a hearing this week to examine the regulation of consumer data, the consumer welfare standard in antitrust law, and vertical mergers. This is the first in a series of hearings on "Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century" that will examine how changes in the economy affect the FTC's enforcement priorities. EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups submitted extensive comments for the hearings. EPIC and the groups said that privacy protection is critical for competition and innovation. EPIC and the groups told the FTC that it should: 1) unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp deal; 2) require Facebook and Google to spin off their advertising units; 3) block future acquisitions by Facebook and Google that would extend monopoly control over consumer data; 4) impose privacy safeguards for all mergers that implicate data privacy; and 5) perform audits of algorithmic tools to promote accountability and to limit anticompetitive conduct. The FTC reopened the investigation of Facebook in March after EPIC and consumer groups filed a formal complaint, but has still taken no action. The UK Information Commissioner completed its initial investigation, published a report, and issued a substantial fine in July.
  • EPIC FOIA: EPIC Obtains Facebook Privacy Documents » (Sep. 12, 2018)
    In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission has released supplemental materials from the biennial Facebook audits (production 1, production 2, production 3, production 4). The audits were required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The documents include letters from the FTC to Facebook inquiring about Facebook's relationship with Instagram and telling the company that "whenever a corporate change such as an acquisition may affect the design and/or implementation of the Company's privacy program, the Company must notify the Commission." EPIC opposed Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and submitted comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. FTC reopened its investigation into Facebook in March after EPIC, consumer groups urged action. The UK Information Commissioner completed its initial investigation, published report, and issued a fine in July. The FTC begins hearings this week on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century.
  • EPIC, Consumer Groups Advise FTC on Competition and Privacy » (Aug. 20, 2018)
    EPIC, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, and US PIRG submitted comments to the FTC in advance of hearings on "Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century." The consumer groups said that privacy protection is critical for competition and innovation. The groups told the FTC that it should: 1) unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp deal; 2) require Facebook and Google to spin off their advertising units into independent companies; 3) block all future acquisitions by Facebook and Google that would enable the companies to increase their monopoly over consumer data; 4) impose privacy safeguards for all future mergers that implicate data privacy concerns; and 5) perform audits of algorithmic tools to promote accountability and to limit anticompetitive conduct. This will be the first time the FTC has reexamined its approach to consumer protection and competition since the FTC's 1995 hearings on "Global Competition and Innovation." EPIC participated in the 1995 hearings which led to the FTC's work on consumer privacy.
  • EPIC to FTC: Google's Location Tracking Violates Consent Order » (Aug. 17, 2018)
    Following a report that Google tracks user location even when users opt-out, EPIC wrote to the FTC that Google violated the 2011 consent order. EPIC said "Google's subsequent changes to its policy, after it has already obtained location data on Internet users, fails to comply with the 2011 order." EPIC also told the FTC that "The Commission's inactions have made the Internet less safe and less secure for users and consumers." The 2011 settlement with Google followed a detailed complaint brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer organizations. The groups charged that Google had engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices when it changed the privacy settings of Gmail users and opted them into Google Buzz. The FTC agreed with the consumer groups, Google entered into a settlement and Buzz was shuttered. FTC chairman John Liebowitz said at the time, "When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them. This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations."
  • EPIC, Consumer Groups Urge FTC to conclude Facebook Investigation » (Aug. 15, 2018)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups have asked the FTC to conclude the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica investigation by September 1, 2018. The groups said, "It is critical that the FTC conclude the Facebook matter, issue a significant fine, and ensure that the company upholds its privacy commitments to users.” Congress and the European Parliament have both conducted extensive hearings on the Cambridge Analytica matter. The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office conducted an extensive investigation, published a substantial report, and issued a significant fine in July. The FTC announced in March that it would reopen the Facebook investigation.
  • Following EPIC Comments, FTC Strengthens Safeguards for Kids' Data in Gaming Industry » (Aug. 14, 2018)
    The FTC has unanimously voted to approve EPIC’s recommendations to strengthen safeguards for children's data in the gaming industry. In a 5-0 vote, the FTC adopted EPIC's proposals to revise the Entertainment Software Rating Board's industry rules to (1) extend children's privacy protections in COPPA to all users worldwide; and (2) to implement privacy safeguards for the collection of data "rendered anonymous." The FTC wrote, "the Commission agrees with EPIC's comment. As COPPA's protections are not limited only to U.S. residents, the definition of 'child' in the ESRB program has been revised to remove the limitation." The Commission also strengthened protections for de-identified children's data: "companies must provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent if personal information is collected, even if it is later anonymized." EPIC has testified several times before Congress on protecting children's data and supported the 2013 updates to COPPA.
  • EPIC Urges FTC To Step Up Privacy Shield Enforcement » (Aug. 1, 2018)
    In detailed comments, EPIC advised the FTC to strengthen a proposed settlement with ReadyTech concerning Privacy Shield, a framework that permits the flow of data on Europeans to the U.S. The FTC settlement prohibited the company from making future misrepresentations regarding compliance with Privacy Shield, but provided no relief for Europeans whose data was unlawfully collected. EPIC urged the FTC to require ReadyTech to undergo and release independent privacy assessments, disgorge all data collected from E.U. citizens, and implement Fair Information Practices. EPIC told the FTC that enforcement of Privacy Shield comes at a critical moment, as the European Parliament recently called for suspension by September 1st if the U.S. does not fully comply. EPIC stressed the urgency of the FTC’s Facebook-Cambridge Analytica investigation, which the European Parliament highlighted as a particular concern. EPIC previously told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytic breach could have been prevented had the FTC enforced the 2011 Consent Order against Facebook, which EPIC and other organizations helped obtain.
  • FTC Chair Seeks New Privacy and Data Security Authority » (Jul. 18, 2018)
    In testimony this morning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, new Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons said the FTC needs greater authority to protect consumers. Simons asserted that privacy and data security are now the top priority for the FTC, and signaled his support for data protection legislation that would accomplish three things: (1) provide civil penalties for companies that violated the law, (2) give the FTC jurisdiction over nonprofits and common carriers, and (3) provide the FTC with rulemaking authority for privacy and data security. EPIC submitted a statement prior to today's hearing emphasizing that the FTC must conclude its investigation of Facebook and issue a fine for its violations of the 2011 Consent Order and unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp deal.
  • For House Hearing, EPIC Urges FTC to Unwind WhatsApp Deal, Enforce Facebook Consent Order » (Jul. 17, 2018)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in advance of a hearing on “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission.” EPIC told the Committee to urge the new FTC leadership to enforce the Facebook Consent Order and unwind the Facebook-WhatsApp merger As EPIC previously told Congress, the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided if the FTC had enforced its 2011 Consent Order against Facebook. That Order was the result of detailed complaints filed by EPIC and consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In 2014, EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy urged the FTC to block Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp unless appropriate privacy safeguards were put in place. In 2016, EPIC and CDD filed a second complaint after Facebook broke its privacy promises and began collecting WhatsApp users' data.
  • EPIC Asks FTC and EDPB to Suspend Transfer of Facebook User Data to Social Science One » (Jul. 13, 2018)
    EPIC has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the European Data Protection Board urging the suspension of a proposed study that will disclose user data to third parties without their consent. EPIC warned that the Social Science One project transfer likely violates the GDPR, as well as the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook, which bars Facebook from disclosing data to third parties without users' affirmative consent. The FTC announced in April that Facebook is under investigation over the transfer of personal data to Cambridge Analytica, a research organization affiliated with a prestigious university. In 2012, Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on its users by secretly manipulating their news feeds to examine the effects of social media on user emotions. The study was suspended after objections from EPIC, professional societies, and others. The Guardian reported that the "lack of 'informed consent' means that Facebook experiment on nearly 700,000 news feeds broke rules on tests on human subjects."
  • EPIC to European Data Protection Board: GDPR Certifications Should Uphold Rights Above Privacy Seals » (Jul. 12, 2018)
    In the first public consultation held by the European Data Protection Board, EPIC proposed a rights-based certification criteria for the General Data Protection Regulation. The Data Protection Board is now the lead privacy agency in Europe. EPIC explained the risks of self-regulatory certification mechanisms, pointing to TRUSTe and the Facebook audits obtained by EPIC that wrongly certified Facebook's compliance with the 2011 FTC Consent Order. EPIC said, certification mechanisms "must be developed by national DPAs and implemented in conformity with the fundamental principles and rights of the GDPR." EPIC has also advised the UK Information Commissioner's Office and the Irish Data Protection Commissioner on GDPR enforcement.
  • UK Data Watchdog Fines Facebook Maximum £500,000 for Cambridge Analytica Breach » (Jul. 11, 2018)
    The Information Commissioner's Office, the lead agency for data protection in England, has issued the maximum £500,000 fine on Facebook for failing to secure user data from Cambridge Analytica. ICO investigations found that Cambridge Analytica harvested 87 million Facebook users' personal data to target ads for political purposes, and that Facebook did not compel the deletion of this data to prevent further misuses. Facebook was charged with two violations of the UK Data Protection Act 1998: "failing to safeguard people's information [and] failing to be transparent about how people's data was harvested by others and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign." ICO also told other companies that served online political ads during the EU Brexit Referendum to stop processing UK citizens' data. In March and April, EPIC told the FTC and Congress that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been prevented if the FTC had enforced the 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The FTC is currently investigating Facebook but has never imposed any fines against the company.
  • FTC Announces Another Privacy Settlement, But Again Imposes No Penalties » (Jul. 2, 2018)
    The FTC announced today that it settled charges with ReadyTech, a California company, for misrepresenting compliance with Privacy Shield, a self-certification arrangement that allows US companies to obtain the personal data of Europeans. The FTC settlement prohibits the company from making future misrepresentations about Privacy Shield compliance, but imposes no penalties and provides no remedy to European consumers whose personal data was wrongfully obtained. Last year, the FTC settled charges with three companies that misrepresented their participation in Privacy Shield, but similarly failed to impose penalties. The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee ("LIBE") recently passed a resolution stating that Privacy Shield does not protect European consumers, and called for its suspension if the U.S. does not comply by September 1, 2018. LIBE specifically called attention to the Cambridge Analytica breach of 87 million Facebook users. In March, EPIC told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been prevented if the FTC had enforced its 2011 Consent Order with Facebook.
  • Facebook's Response to Congress Provides More Evidence of Consent Order Violations » (Jul. 2, 2018)
    Late Friday afternoon, Facebook submitted over 700 pages of responses to questions from members of Congress following Mark Zuckerberg's testimony in April. Facebook has now admitted that it provided developers and device makers access to personal data despite publicly stating that it had discontinued the practice. In April EPIC submitted a detailed letter to Congress, explaining that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided if the FTC had enforced the 2011 Consent Order. That Consent Order was the result of extensive complaints EPIC and consumer organizations filed with the FTC in 2009 and 2010. In March, the Acting Director of the FTC stated "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook." In a recent memo, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra stated that "FTC orders are not suggestions."
  • EPIC Urges Appeals Court to Protect Consumers Against Invasive Cookie Tracking Practices » (Jun. 27, 2018)
    EPIC has filed an amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in In re: Facebook, Inc. Internet Tracking Litigation. At issue is whether Facebook violated the privacy rights of users by tracking their web browsing even after they logged out of the platform. EPIC explained that cookies "no longer serve the interests of users" and instead "tag, track, and monitor users across the Internet." EPIC said a lower court wrongly concluded that users should develop countermeasures to assert their privacy rights. EPIC responded that it would be absurd to expect users to compete in a "technical arms race" when "Facebook's tracking techniques are designed to escape detection and the company routinely ignores users' privacy protections." EPIC first identified the privacy risks of cookie tracking in a 1997 report "Surfer Beware: Personal Privacy and the Internet." EPIC frequently participates as amicus curiae in consumer privacy cases, including hiQ Labs v. LinkedIn and Eichenberger v. ESPN.
  • US Consumer Groups Urge FTC To Examine 'Deceived by Design' Practices » (Jun. 27, 2018)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer organizations sent a letter to the FTC about recent tactics by Facebook and Google to trick users into disclosing personal data. "We urge you to investigate the misleading and manipulative tactics of the dominant digital platforms in the United States, which steer users to 'consent' to privacy-invasive default settings," the letter states. The letter highlights a report by the Norwegian Consumer Council entitled "Deceived by Design," which details how companies employ numerous tricks and tactics to nudge users into selecting the least privacy-friendly options. EPIC and consumer privacy organizations previously filed complaints with the FTC when Facebook undermined users' privacy settings and Google automatically opted users into Google Buzz. In both cases, the FTC determined that the companies had engaged in "unfair and deceptive trade practices." Both Facebook and Google settled with the FTC and were then subject to 20 year consent orders that were intended to prevent the companies from engaging in similar practices in the future.
  • In EPIC FOIA Case, FTC Releases New Information from Facebook Audits » (Jun. 26, 2018)
    In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission today released materials, previously withheld, from the biennial Facebook audits. The audits were required by the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. Heavily redacted versions of those audits were previously available on the FTC's website. But in March, following the Cambridge Analytica breach, EPIC filed an urgent FOIA request for the complete 2013, 2015, 2017 Facebook audits. (The 2017 audit covers the period the Cambridge Analytica breach.) In a detailed letter to Congress in April, EPIC explained that the FTC failed to review the reports and failed to enforce the 2011 consent order against Facebook. The documents released today to EPIC contain information that was not previously available to the public. EPIC is currently reviewing the documents obtained from the FTC.
  • FTC Launches New Inquiry on "Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century" » (Jun. 20, 2018)
    The FTC Chairman Joe Simmons announced today that the FTC will hold a series of public hearings this fall on how to safeguard consumer protection and competition in light of economic and technologic developments. "The hearings may identify areas for enforcement and policy guidance, including improvements to the agency's investigation and law enforcement processes, as well as areas that warrant additional study," said the FTC. The hearings will focus on several topics, including "the intersection between privacy, big data, and competition" and "the use of algorithmic decision tools, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics." The FTC is requesting public comment in advance of the hearings. This will be the first time the FTC has reexamined its approach to consumer protection and competition since the FTC's 1995 hearings on "Global Competition and Innovation." EPIC participated in those hearings and helped the FTC develop authority to address emerging privacy issues. More recently, EPIC has put forward "10 Recommendations" for how the FTC can protect consumers, promote competition, and encourage innovation.
  • At Senate Hearing, Former FTC CTO States That Facebook Violated FTC Consent Order » (Jun. 19, 2018)
    In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today on Facebook and data privacy, former FTC CTO Ashkan Soltani stated that Facebook violated the 2011 FTC Consent Order by transferring personal data to Cambridge Analytica and device makers contrary to user privacy expectations. Soltani said that Facebook continued to misrepresent the extent to which users could control their privacy settings and allowed device makers to override users' privacy settings. Senator Blumenthal and other members of Congress had previously said the company violated the Consent Order, which was the result of complaints filed by EPIC in 2009 and 2010. In a statement to the Committee in advance of the hearing, EPIC urged the Senate to focus on the FTC's failure to enforce the Consent Order with Facebook.
  • EPIC Urges Senate Committee to Focus on Consent Order with Facebook » (Jun. 19, 2018)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the Senate Commerce Committee outlining the FTC's failure to enforce the 2011 Consent Order with Facebook. The statement from EPIC is for a hearing on "Cambridge Analytica and Other Facebook Partners: Examining Data Privacy Risks." In 2009, EPIC and several consumer groups pursued a complaint, containing detailed evidence, legal theories, and proposed remedies to address growing concerns about Facebook's data practices. The FTC established a Consent Order in 2011, but failed to enforce the Order even after EPIC sued the agency in a related matter. In the statement to the Senate this week, EPIC contends that the FTC could have prevented the Cambridge Analytica debacle and Facebook's secret arrangements with device makers if the agency enforced the 2011 Order.
  • European Civil Liberties Committee: 'Privacy Shield' Should Be Suspended » (Jun. 12, 2018)
    Members of European Parliament are calling for the suspension of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield if the U.S. does not comply in full by September 1, 2018. The Civil Liberties Committee ("LIBE") passed a resolution stating that the pact, which permits the flow of European consumers' personal data to the U.S, does not adequately protect privacy. LIBE urged US authorities to respond without delay to the Cambridge Analytica breach of 87 million Facebook users. The groups also expressed "strong concerns" about the CLOUD Act which permits US law enforcement to unilaterally access personal data stored in Europe. EPIC recently told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided had the agency enforced a 2011 Consent Order that EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy groups obtained.
  • Court of Appeals Vacates FTC's LabMD Order, Finding It Lacked Specifics » (Jun. 7, 2018)
    The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has vacated an administrative order by the Federal Trade Commission, which required the medical testing company LabMD to implement "reasonable" data security measures, finding that the order was not specific enough to be enforceable. The court explained that the FTC can require companies to implement data security measures as long as it provides specific guidance. EPIC has repeatedly urged the FTC to mandate specific data security requirements in consumer privacy settlements, including in comments on recent settlements with Uber and PayPal. EPIC also submitted an amicus brief in FTC v. Wyndham, a case in which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FTC's authority to enforce data security standards.
  • EPIC Renews Call For FTC To Stop Secret Scoring of Young Athletes » (May. 23, 2018)
    EPIC has urged the Federal Trade Commission to act on a Complaint EPIC previously filed with the FTC about the secret scoring of young tennis players. The EPIC complaint concerns the "Universal Tennis Rating," a proprietary algorithm used to assign numeric scores to tennis players, many of whom are children under 13. According to EPIC, "the UTR score defines the status of young athletes in all tennis-related activity; impacts opportunities for scholarship, education and employment; and may in the future provide the basis for 'social scoring' and government rating of citizens." EPIC pointed to objective, provable, and transparent rating systems such as ELO as far preferable. EPIC has championed "Algorithmic Transparency" as a fundamental human right. Earlier this month, the Council of Europe adopted the modernized Privacy Convention that establishes a legal right for individuals to obtain "knowledge of the reasoning" for the processing of personal data.
  • EPIC To Senate Judiciary: Privacy Is Integral to Democracy » (May. 15, 2018)
    In advance of a hearing on Cambridge Analytica and the Future of Data Privacy, EPIC has sent a statement to the Seante Judiciary Committee. EPIC said that "It has become increasingly clear that even as we are asked to give up our privacy, companies have become ever more secretive about how they profile and target voters." In 2014, EPIC challenged Facebook's manipulation of users' News Feeds for psychological research. "If Facebook used data manipulation to shape users' emotions, it can use data manipulation to shape voters' practices," EPIC told the Committee.
  • EPIC Urges FTC To Strengthen Revised Settlement with Uber » (May. 15, 2018)
    In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC urged the FTC to strengthen a revised settlement with Uber. The FTC reached a settlement with Uber back in August of 2017 for its numerous privacy abuses, including secretly tracking riders and using software to evade authorities. But shortly after announcing the settlement, the FTC discovered that Uber had hid a massive data breach and used its bug bounty program to pay off the hackers. As a result, the FTC required Uber to submit all of its privacy assessments to the Commission. While EPIC supported the FTC’s action, EPC said that "the FTC should make Uber's privacy assessments public so that consumers can evaluate whether the company is meeting its obligations under the Consent Order." The FTC's initial investigation and subsequent settlement with Uber were prompted by EPIC's complaint against Uber's in 2015.
  • FTC Commissioner Chopra: "FTC orders are not suggestions" » (May. 14, 2018)
    Incoming Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a memo today warning that the FTC will enforce its consent orders against companies that violate the law. "FTC orders are not suggestions," said Chopra. Chopra said the FTC should seek structural remedies as well as monetary fines. EPIC has repeatedly told the FTC to enforce its orders, and even sued the agency, EPIC v. FTC, for failing to enforce the order against Google following the Buzz fiasco. More recently, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups told the FTC that the Cambridge Analytica breach could have been avoided had FTC enforced the 2011 Consent Order against Facebook. The FTC has since confirmed that it is investigating Facebook for the breach. According to the former Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook."
  • Facebook Denied Attempt to Delay Review of EU-US Personal Data Transfers » (May. 3, 2018)
    The Irish High Court has denied Facebook's request to halt review of Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebookby Europe's top court. The case, which was recently referred to the European Court of Justice, concerns whether Facebook's transfers of personal data from Ireland to the United States violate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The case follows the landmark 2015 decision that the US had insufficient privacy protections to allow transfer of Europeans' personal data. Ruling against Facebook's request to delay the case further pending appeal, the Irish court said EU data subjects could be harmed if the case were delayed, and that there were “considerable concerns” about Facebook's conduct in the case. EPIC was designated the US NGO amicus curiae in this case, and provided a detailed assessment of US privacy law.
  • EPIC Sues FTC for Release of Facebook's Audits » (Apr. 20, 2018)
    EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the release of the unredacted Facebook Assessments from the FTC. The FTC Consent Order. required Facebook to provide to the FTC biennial assessments conducted by an independent auditor. In March, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the 2013, 2015, 2017 Facebook Assessments and related records. EPIC's FOIA request drew attention to a version of the 2017 report available at the FTC website. But that version is heavily redacted. EPIC is suing now for the release of unredacted report. EPIC has an extensive open government practice and has previously obtained records from many federal agencies. The case is EPIC v. FTC, No. 18-942 (D.D.C. filed April 20, 2018).
  • EPIC Obtains Partial Release of 2017 Facebook Audit » (Apr. 20, 2018)
    EPIC has obtained a redacted version of the 2017 Facebook Assessment required by the 2012 Federal Trade Commission Consent Order. The Order required Facebook to conduct biennial assessments from a third-party auditor of Facebook's privacy and security practices. In March, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the 2013, 2015, and 2017 Facebook Assessments as well as related records. The 2017 Facebook Assessment, prepared by PwC, stated that "Facebook's privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness" to protect the privacy of users. This assessment was prepared after Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of 87 million Facebook users. In a statement to Congress for the Facebook hearings last week, EPIC noted that FTC Commissioners represented that the Consent Order protected the privacy of hundreds of millions of Facebook users in the United States and Europe.
  • FTC Strengthens Penalties Against Uber for Covering Up Data Breach » (Apr. 12, 2018)
    The Federal Trade Commission has strengthened its 2017 settlement with Uber because the company hid a massive data breach and bug bounty program in 2016. Under the revised settlement, Uber must submit all of its privacy audits to the FTC, and will face civil penalties if it fails to disclose another breach. In February 2018, EPIC advised Congress that "bug bounty programs do not excuse non-compliance with data breach notification laws." The FTC's 2017 settlement with Uber was the result of EPIC's 2015 complaint to the Commission detailing Uber's numerous privacy abuses. In public comments, EPIC advised the FTC to strengthen the settlement by making all of Uber's privacy audits available to the public.
  • EPIC Urges Senate to Focus on FTC Consent Order with Facebook » (Apr. 9, 2018)
    In advance of a joint hearing about Facebook's failure to protect the personal data of users, EPIC has sent a comprehensive statement to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on Commerce. EPIC is urging the Senators to focus on the 2011 Consent Order between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission. In 2009, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups presented the FTC with a complaint, containing detailed evidence, legal theories, and proposed remedies to address growing concerns about Facebook. The FTC adopted a Consent Order in 2011, based on EPIC's Complaint, but failed to enforce the Order even after EPIC sued the agency in a related matter. In numerous comments to the FTC, EPIC and others urged the FTC to enforce its consent order. In the statement to the Senate this week, EPIC contends that the Cambridge Analytica debacle could have been prevented if the FTC enforced the Order.
  • UPDATE - EPIC, Consumer Groups Urge FTC to Investigate Facebook's Use of Facial Recognition » (Apr. 6, 2018)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups have filed a complaint with the FTC, charging that Facebook's use of facial recognition techniques threaten user privacy and "in multiple ways" violate the 2011 Consent Order with the Commission. "The scanning of facial images without express, affirmative consent is unlawful and must be enjoined," the groups wrote. Last week the organizations urged the Federal Trade Commission to reopen the 2009 investigation of Facebook, arguing that the disclosure of user data to Cambridge Analytica violated the consent order, and noting that the order also prohibited Facebook from "making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers' personal information." In 2011 EPIC and consumer groups urged the FTC to investigate Facebook’s facial recognition practices. In 2012 EPIC advised the FTC "Commercial actors should not deploy facial techniques until adequate safeguards are established. As such safeguards have not yet been established, EPIC would recommend a moratorium on the commercial deployment of these techniques." EPIC President Marc Rotenberg said today, "Facebook should suspend further deployment of facial recognition pending the outcome of the FTC investigation."
  • EPIC, Consumer Groups to Urge Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Facebook's Use of Facial Recognition » (Apr. 5, 2018)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups will file a complaint with the FTC on Friday charging that Facebook's use of facial recognition techniques threaten user privacy and violate the 2011 Consent Order with the Commission. "The scanning of facial images without express, affirmative consent is unlawful and must be enjoined," the groups wrote. Last week the organizations urged the Federal Trade Commission to reopen the 2009 investigation of Facebook, arguing that the disclosure of user data to Cambridge Analytica violated the consent order, and noting that the order also prohibited Facebook from "making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers' personal information." The FTC has confirmed that an investigation is now underway. The FTC said, "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements." Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Commerce Committee. In 2011 EPIC urged the FTC to investigate Facebook's facial recognition practices. In 2012 EPIC advised the FTC "Commercial actors should not deploy facial techniques until adequate safeguards are established. As such safeguards have not yet been established, EPIC would recommend a moratorium on the commercial deployment of these techniques."
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Strengthen PayPal/Venmo Settlement » (Mar. 29, 2018)
    In detailed comments, EPIC advised the FTC to strengthen a proposed settlement with PayPal concerning Venmo, a mobile app for peer-to-peer payments. The FTC complaint found that Venmo made misrepresentations about privacy and security practices. EPIC recommended that the FTC require PayPal to (1) change the default setting to private, (2) require affirmative consent for subsequent changes, (3) make the privacy assessments public, (4) require multi-factor authentication, and (5) comply with Fair Information Practices. The FTC is obligated to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement and must provide a “reasoned response” if it fails to modify an order. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call On Facebook to Stop Electioneering » (Mar. 28, 2018)
    EPIC joined Consumer Watchdog and a coalition of consumer organizations to urge Facebook to cease all campaign contributions and electioneering activity. The groups also recommended that Facebook retain Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center to audit Facebook's use of personal information for election advertisements. Last week, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook. EPIC has also urged the Federal Election Commission to provide transparency for online political ads. EPIC is fully engaged in protecting the integrity of elections with its Project on Democracy and Cybersecurity.
  • State AGs Launch Facebook Investigation » (Mar. 26, 2018)
    A bipartisan group of 37 State Attorneys General is investigating Facebook's business practices and lack of privacy protections. "Businesses like Facebook must comply with the law when it comes to how they use their customers' personal data," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. "State Attorneys General have an important role to play in holding them accountable." The Federal Trade Commission also announced today that it is investigating Facebook. Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley has also said there will be hearings on the Facebook matter when Congress returns.
  • FTC Confirms Investigation Into Facebook about 2011 Consent Order » (Mar. 26, 2018)
    The Federal Trade Commission has confirmed an investigation into Facebook for the company's failure to protect the personal data obtained by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook likely violated the FTC's 2011 Consent Order with the company. Last week, EPIC and a coalition of consumer organizations urged the FTC to reopen the investigation. EPIC and other consumer organizations brought the complaint that led to the FTC's 2011 Order. Thomas Pahl, the Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection stated today, "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook." In a recent article for Techonomy, EPIC President Marc Rotenberg emphasized that "the transfer of 50 million user records to the controversial data mining and political consulting firm could have been avoided if the Federal Trade Commission had done its job."
  • EPIC FOIAs FTC, Seeks Facebook's Privacy Assessments » (Mar. 20, 2018)
    EPIC has submitted an urgent Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Trade Commission, seeking the privacy assessments required by the FTC's 2012 Consent Order. Facebook is required to produce independent privacy assessments every two years for the next 20 years. Each assessment should "identify Facebook's privacy controls maintained during the reporting period, explain the appropriateness of these controlsin relation to Facebook's activities and sensitivity of information, as well as explain how these controls meet or exceed the protections" required in the 2012 Consent Order. Facebook is also required to identify an independent privacy auditor, approved by the FTC. EPIC previously obtained the 2012 Initial Compliance Report as well as the 2013 Initial Assessment through an earlier FOIA request. EPIC is now seeking the 2015 and 2017 reports which cover the period for the data transfers to Cambridge Analytica.
  • EPIC, Consumer Groups Urge FTC To Investigate Facebook » (Mar. 20, 2018)
    In a statement issued today, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups have called on the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether Facebook violated a 2011 Consent Order when it facilitated the transfer of personal data of 50 million Facebook users to the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. The groups had repeatedly urged the FTC to enforce its own legal judgements. EPIC even sued the agency in 2012 for its failure to enforce a consent order against Google. "The FTC's failure to act imperils not only privacy but democracy as well," the groups warned. Between 2009 and 2011 EPIC and other consumer groups undertook extensive work to document Facebook's privacy abuses that led to the consent order in 2011.
  • EPIC Tells House to Probe Commerce Secretary on Data Protection, Privacy Shield » (Mar. 20, 2018)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the House Appropriations Committee outlining the key privacy issues facing the Secretary of Commerce. The Committee held a hearing today to discuss the FY19 budget for the Department of Commerce. EPIC stated that data protection may be "the most important issue that the Secretary of Commerce will confront over the next several years." EPIC said the FTC is simply not doing enough to safeguard the personal data of American consumers, as evidenced by this week's report on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. EPIC also warned that Europe may suspend the Privacy Shield, a framework that permits the flow of European consumers' personal data to the U.S, if the United States does not modernize privacy law and establish a federal data protection agency.
  • Facebook "Breach" Highlights Failure of FTC to Enforce Consent Orders » (Mar. 19, 2018)
    In 2009, EPIC and a coalition of US consumer privacy organizations petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to establish comprehensive privacy safeguards after Facebook changed user privacy settings and secretly transferred user data to third parties. In 2011, the FTC agreed with the privacy groups and established a far-reaching settlement with the company, that prevented such disclosures, prohibited deceptive statements, and required annual reporting. But the FTC failed to enforce its consent order, even after EPIC sued the agency and consumer groups repeatedly urged the Commission to act. This weekend the Washington Post and the New York Times reported that Facebook disclosed the personal data of 50 million users without their consent to Cambridge Analytica, the controversial British data mining firm that sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.
  • U.K. Blocks WhatsApp From Transferring Data to Facebook » (Mar. 14, 2018)
    U.K. privacy officials have blocked WhatApp from transferring personal data to Facebook until the company complies with the GDPR, the new European privacy law. The Information Commissioner's Office found that WhatsApp's proposed data transfer would have violated the U.K. Data Protection Act. "People have a right to have their personal data kept safe," explained Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a blog post. EPIC has twice urged the FTC to block WhatsApp's transfer of personal data to Facebook, but the FTC has failed to act. The FTC approved Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 after both companies assured the Commission and the public that they would protect users' privacy, but in 2016 WhatsApp announced that it would begin transferring the names and phone numbers of its users to Facebook. France blocked the data transfer and the EU fined Facebook $122 million for misleading European authorities about the data transfer.
  • EPIC to Congress: Examine "Connected Devices," Safeguard Consumer Privacy » (Mar. 6, 2018)
    EPIC sent a statement to a House Committee on Energy and Commerce in advance of a hearing on the NTIA, a key technology policy agency. EPIC warned that "American consumers face unprecedented privacy and security threats," citing both data breaches and "always on" devices that record users' private conversations. EPIC said that Congress and the NTIA should establish protections that minimize the collection of personal data and promote security for Internet-connected devices. EPIC warned of growing risks to consumer safety and public safety. EPIC has testified before Congress, litigated cases, and filed complaints with the FTC regarding connected cars, "smart homes," consumer products, and "always on" devices.
  • FTC Report - ID Theft Complaints Rank High » (Mar. 1, 2018)
    Identity theft ranked second among all complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in 2017. Although the total number of complaints dropped, consumers reported losing $63 million more to identity theft and fraud in 2017 than in 2016. EPIC has warned that "the FTC's failure to act against the growing threats to consumer privacy and security could be catastrophic." 2017 marked a record year for data breaches. EPIC urged the FTC to enforce data security standards as part of its 10 recommendations for the FTC's five-year strategic plan. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg also testified before the Senate and the House following the Equifax breach, calling for comprehensive data protection legislation.
  • Axios Poll: Public Wants Big Tech Regulated » (Feb. 28, 2018)
    A new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll found that 55% of Americans believe the government should do more to regulate tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The poll showed bipartisan support for increased regulation, with 45% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats, and 57% of Independents saying they are "more concerned" that the government will not go far enough to regulate tech. EPIC maintains an extensive page on Privacy and Public Opinion which shows consistent support among Americans for stronger laws to protect their privacy. EPIC has also opposed mergers that threaten consumer privacy, including Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, and Google's acquisition of Nest Labs.
  • House Draft Data Security Bill Preempts Stronger State Safeguards » (Feb. 16, 2018)
    Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) and Rep. Maloney (D-NY) circulated a draft bill, the "Data Acquisition and Technology Accountability and Security Act," that would set federal requirements for companies collecting personal data and require prompt breach notification. The Federal Trade Commission, which has often failed to pursue important data breach cases, and state Attorneys General would both be responsible for enforcing the law. The law would only trigger liability if the personal data breached is "reasonably likely to result in identity theft, fraud, or economic loss" and would preempt stronger state data breach laws. Earlier this week, EPIC President Marc Rotenberg testified before the House, calling for comprehensive data privacy legislation that would preserve stronger state laws. Last fall, EPIC testified at a Senate hearing on the Equifax breach, calling it one of the worst in U.S. history.
  • EPIC Offers Recommendations for Future of FTC Ahead of Senate Hearing on Nominees » (Feb. 13, 2018)
    In advance of a Senate hearing on four nominees to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC recommended 10 steps for the FTC to safeguard American consumers. EPIC explained that the FTC's failure to address the data protection crisis has contributed to unprecedented levels of data breach and identity theft in the United States. EPIC helped establish the FTC's authority for consumer privacy and has urged the FTC to safeguard American consumers in cases involving Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Uber, Samsung and others. EPIC also filed a lawsuit against the FTC when it failed to enforce a consent order against Google.
  • EPIC Challenges Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Feb. 2, 2018)
    EPIC has filed an amicus brief with a federal appeals court urging the court to reject a proposed class action settlement over Facebook's practice of scanning private messages. EPIC challenged the settlement because it did not require Facebook to stop scanning private messages. In fact, the company can continue scanning messages by simply burying a notice on its website. Also, there was no compensation to Internet users for the prior violation of federal and state laws. EPIC is dedicated to class action fairness in privacy cases and has objected to many similar settlements that failed to provide actual benefits to Internet users. EPIC recently opposed a settlement with Google that allows the company to continue tracking web users. EPIC also opposed a settlement with Facebook in 2014 that allowed the company to continue an unlawful practice.
  • EPIC Joins Consumer and Health Groups, Urges Facebook to Scrap 'Messenger Kids' » (Jan. 30, 2018)
    EPIC, the Center for Commercial Free Childhood, and others have urged Mark Zuckerberg to shutter Facebook's "Messenger Kids" app. The groups cited rising concern about social media among adolescents and wrote it is irresponsible to encourage preschoolers to use Facebook products. Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have questioned Facebook about the Messenger Kids app. EPIC recently backed a campaign that led Mattel to cancel a device that spies on young children. EPIC also led efforts to require Facebook to respect the privacy rights of WhatsApp users.
  • European Court of Justice Grants Standing to Privacy Advocate But Bars Class Action under Austrian Law » (Jan. 30, 2018)
    The Court of Justice of the European Union, following an advisory opinion, has determined that Max Schrem's class action in Austria cannot proceed against Facebook, but individual privacy claims can. The Court granted Schrems standing, recognizing that "the activities of publishing books, giving lectures, operating websites," and similar activities does not entail the loss of "a user's status as a 'consumer.'" However, the Court found that "the consumer forum cannot be invoked" in "claims assigned by other consumers." The class action of 25,000 consumers brought by Austrian privacy activist and EPIC Advisory Board member Max Schrems alleges that Facebook violated Europeans' privacy rights, including for transferring data to the U.S. intelligence community. Max Schrems recently launched NYOB to pursue class actions under the General Data Protection Regulation. In 2013, Max Schrems received the EPIC International Champion of Freedom Award.
  • FTC Report on Connected Cars Lacks Privacy Recommendations » (Jan. 9, 2018)
    The Federal Trade Commission released a brief report summarizing a June 2017 workshop, co-hosted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on connected vehicles. While the report acknowledges consumer privacy interests, the report offers no concrete proposals for how the FTC will address the privacy and safety risks of connected cars. EPIC submitted comments to the FTC and NHTSA and gave a presentation at the FTC workshop, calling for national safety standards for connected cars. In a recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court, EPIC also underscored the privacy risks of rental cars, which collect vast troves of personal data. The Senate is currently considering a bill on connected cars and the NHTSA recently released revised guidance for connected cars, but both lack mandatory safety standards and encourage industry self-regulation.
  • FTC Finalizes Settlement with Lenovo Over Adware » (Jan. 3, 2018)
    The Federal Trade Commission has given final approval to a settlement with Lenovo over its practice of pre-installing adware onto consumers' laptops. The complaint alleged that the adware transmitted consumers' personal information to third parties and made consumer' laptops vulnerable to cyberattacks. The settlement prohibits Lenovo from misrepresenting any pre-installed software, but imposes no fines and allows Lenovo to continue pre-installing adware onto consumers' laptops. EPIC has routinely urged the FTC to strengthen its privacy settlements, and recently emphasized the need for the FTC to step up its data protection in comments on the FTC's five-year strategic plan.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Action on Toys that Spy » (Dec. 19, 2017)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on companies that sell internet-connected toys and smartwatches. The statement highlights an FTC complaint concerning My Friend Cayla and I-Que Intelligent Robot, toys that recorded and analyzed children's conversations filed more than a year ago. Many retailers worldwide have pulled these toys from their shelves, but the FTC has yet to take action on the complaint. "Connected toys raise serious privacy concerns," said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg. "Kids should play with their toys and their friends, and not with surveillance devices dressed as dolls." EPIC has backed many efforts to limit the risks of internet-connected toys. Recently, EPIC joined consumer groups in asking Mattel to cancel plans to sell Aristotle, an "always on" device that records the private conversations of young children. EPIC also supported a coalition letter asking the FTC to investigate smartwatches that track the location of children. The Norwegian Consumer Council has uncovered similar problems with Cayla and i-Que, and recently released a report on toys that track children.
  • EPIC Urges Congress to Regulate AI Techniques, Promotes 'Algorithmic Transparency' » (Dec. 12, 2017)
    In advance of a hearing on "Digital Decision-Making: The Building Blocks of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence," EPIC warned a Senate committee that many organizations now make decisions based on opaque techniques they don't understand. EPIC told Congress that algorithmic transparency is critical for democratic accountability. In 2015, EPIC launched an international a campaign in support of Algorithmic Transparency. At a speech to UNESCO in 2015, EPIC President Marc Rotenberg called knowledge of the algorithm "a fundamental human right." Earlier this year, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC that challenged the secret scoring of athletes by Universal Tennis. EPIC said to the FTC that it "seeks to ensure that all rating systems concerning individuals are open, transparent and accountable."
  • EPIC Offers 10 Recommendations for the FTC's Five-Year Strategic Plan » (Dec. 5, 2017)
    EPIC has submitted 10 recommendations for the Federal Trade Commission's "Draft Strategic Plan" for 2018-2022. EPIC explained how the FTC can protect consumers, promote competition, and encourage innovation. Among the several proposals, EPIC urged the FTC to enforce consent orders, incorporate public comments into settlements, promote transparency, produce concrete outcomes, and endorse data protection legislation. EPIC and several consumer privacy groups outlined these proposals in a letter to the FTC in February, 2017. EPIC has consistently urged the FTC to exercise its full authority in protecting consumers, and even filed a lawsuit in 2012 to get the FTC to enforce an existing consent order against Google. EPIC has also filed several consumer privacy complaints with the FTC, including a recent complaint about "toys that spy."
  • EPIC Promotes 'Algorithmic Transparency,' Urges Congress to Regulate AI Techniques » (Nov. 28, 2017)
    In advance of a hearing on "Algorithms: How Companies' Decisions About Data and Content Impact Consumers," EPIC warned a Congressional committee that many organizations now make decisions based on opaque techniques they don't understand. EPIC told Congress that algorithmic transparency is critical for democratic accountability. In 2015, EPIC launched an international a campaign in support of Algorithmic Transparency. At a speech to UNESCO in 2015, EPIC President Marc Rotenberg called knowledge of the algorithm "a fundamental human right." Earlier this year, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC that challenged the secret scoring of athletes by Universal Tennis. EPIC said to the FTC that it "seeks to ensure that all rating systems concerning individuals are open, transparent and accountable."
  • Senator Warner Questions Uber CEO On Why It Hid Data Breach » (Nov. 28, 2017)
    Senator Mark Warner sent a letter to the Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, questioning him about why the company covered up a data breach that affected 57 million consumers last year. Uber recently admitted that it hid a massive data breach from the public and paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data. The stolen data included names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and drivers' licenses. Senator Warner told the Uber CEO that he had "grave concerns about your handling of a breach," including the fact that the company disclosed the breach to investors but not the public. Senator Warner has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would provide consumers with one free credit freeze per year and protect the credit ratings of veterans wrongly penalized by medical bills. EPIC's 2015 complaint with the FTC regarding Uber's abuse of personal data led to an FTC settlement in August, 2017. EPIC has also proposed a privacy law for Uber and other ride-sharing companies.
  • European Court Adviser Says Facebook Privacy Class Action Barred » (Nov. 15, 2017)
    The opinion of a key adviser to the European Court of Justice holds that a class action cannot proceed against Facebook, but would permit individual privacy claims to move forward. The class action of 25,000 consumers brought by Austrian privacy activist and EPIC Advisory Board member Max Schrems alleges Facebook violated Europeans' privacy rights, including for transferring data to the U.S. intelligence community. The opinion from Advocate General Bobek said a "consumer cannot invoke, at the same time as his own claims, claims on the same subject assigned by other consumers," citing the risk of consumers shopping for the most favorable forums. The European Court of Justice typically adopts the opinions of the Advocate General. The Court of Justice will also consider DPC v. Facebook, involving whether Facebook's data transfers from Ireland to the U.S. violate European Fundamental Rights. In 2013, Max Schrems received the EPIC International Champion of Freedom Award.
  • FTC Requests Public Comments on Strategic Plan » (Nov. 9, 2017)
    The FTC released a draft of the FTC 2018-2022 strategic plan for public comment. The plan broadly summarizes the FTC's role in protecting consumers and promoting competition. Federal agencies are required by law to publish a strategic plan every four years. EPIC has stated that the Commission needs to "step up its efforts to protect the privacy interests of American consumers." EPIC wrote to Senate Commerce Committee in advance of a recent hearing on reform proposals for the FTC, stating "the FTC must do more to safeguard American consumers." EPIC also urged the FTC to re-focus an upcoming "workshop on informational injury" on the unprecedented levels of data breach and identity theft in the United States. Earlier this year, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations set out "10 Steps for the FTC to Protect Consumers." Comments on the Strategic Plan are due to the FTC by December 5, 2017.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Focus on Data Protection at Upcoming Workshop » (Oct. 31, 2017)
    EPIC has sent a letter to the FTC expressing concerns regarding their upcoming workshop on "Informational Injury." In advance of the workshop, the FTC has asked, "how to best characterize" privacy injuries. EPIC stated, "the injuries consumers face are obvious," in particular the unprecedented levels of data breach and identity theft. EPIC urged the FTC to re-focus the workshop on the questions of why data breach, identity theft, and financial fraud continue to rise in the United States, and how the FTC can do more to address these issues. EPIC recently testified before Congress on consumer data security and the credit bureaus, and has called on the FTC to step up its enforcement to protect consumer privacy.
  • European Privacy Experts Press WhatsApp on Data Practices » (Oct. 27, 2017)
    The Article 29 Working Party, a group of European privacy experts, warned WhatsApp that it is still not complying with data protection law. Following Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, WhatsApp transferred users' personal data to Facebook, violating past privacy promises. In a letter to WhatsApp, Article 29 said "the information presented to users was seriously deficient as a means to inform their consent," and a WhatsApp must promptly establish "clear, comprehensive resolution." Backed by over a dozen US consumer groups, in 2016 EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC urging the agency to block Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp if privacy safeguards were not put in place. The FTC wrote to both companies, explaining that their failure to honor privacy obligations could violate U.S. law.
  • FTC Provides Guidance on Voice Recordings and Kids » (Oct. 24, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission has clarified how the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act applies to toys that make voice recordings of children. The Commission's enforcement policy statement stated that an audio file may only be used "as a replacement for written words," and may only be maintained "for the brief time necessary for that purpose." Additionally, "the operator may not make any other use of the audio file in the brief period before the file is destroyed — for example, for behavioral targeting or profiling purposes." EPIC has supported efforts by consumer groups to warn of the risks smart toys pose to childhood development. Last year, a coalition of consumer groups pursued a complaint about My Friend Cayla, an Internet connected toy that recorded the private conversations of children. The complaint spurred a Congressional investigation and the toy was recalled in Europe.
  • EPIC Calls for Greater FTC Enforcement » (Sep. 28, 2017)
    In advance of a Senate Commerce hearing on consumer privacy, EPIC called for more action by the Federal Trade Commission to protect American consumers. In a statement for the Committee, EPIC said that "the FTC is simply not doing enough to safeguard the personal data of American consumers." EPIC explained that "the FTC's privacy framework - based largely on 'notice and choice' - is simply not working." EPIC also warned that consumers "face unprecedented threats of identity theft, financial fraud, and security breach." EPIC has fought for consumer privacy rights at the FTC for more than two decades, filing landmark complaints about privacy violations by Uber, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and even suing the Commission when it has failed to enforce its own orders.
  • EPIC Urges FTC To Strengthen Privacy Settlement With Uber » (Sep. 15, 2017)
    In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC urged the FTC to strengthen a proposed settlement with Uber. The FTC's investigation and subsequent settlement was prompted by EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. EPIC recommended that the FTC require Uber to end collection of customer data beyond what is necessary to provide the service and to mandate that Uber implement stronger privacy safeguards. As EPIC highlighted in the original complaint, Uber has a history of abusing consumer privacy. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC is obligated to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement.
  • FTC Announces Privacy Shield Settlement but Imposes No Penalties » (Sep. 8, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced today a settlement with three companies that misrepresented their participation in the Privacy Shield arrangement. The Privacy Shield allows companies to transfer the personal data of European consumers to the United States based on a system of industry self-certification. The FTC settlement prohibits the companies from making future false claims about compliance with Privacy Shield, but does not impose any penalty. The FTC settlement also fails to provide any remedy to the EU consumers whose personal data was wrongfully obtained, nor does it require the companies to disgorge the data they fraudulently obtained. EPIC and consumer organizations in the US and Europe have criticized Privacy Shield for failing to establish basic privacy protection and lacking effective remedies. The FTC is now soliciting public comments on the proposed settlements, and the deadline to file a comment is October 10, 2017.
  • EPIC Urges Public Comments on FTC Settlement with Uber » (Sep. 6, 2017)
    EPIC is urging the public to comment on the proposed FTC settlement with Uber regarding consumer privacy. (Federal Register Notice). The FTC settlement follows EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. The proposed settlement requires regular privacy audits of Uber by third parties but fails to make substantial changes in the companies business practices or require the company to delete the personal data that was wrongfully obtained. The deadline to file a comment with the FTC is September 15, 2017. The FTC is required to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC also recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
  • Following EPIC Complaint, Uber Agrees To Stop Tracking Riders » (Aug. 29, 2017)
    Uber has ended the practice of tracking customers before and after they are picked up. In 2015, Uber announced the company would track the location of riders from the time they ordered a ride until after they had reached their destination. EPIC promptly filed a complaint with the FTC and stated that "This collection of user's information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service." The end to Uber's tracking of riders comes two weeks after Uber entered into a consent agreement with the FTC following a complaint filed EPIC that highlighted Uber's history of misusing customer data. But EPIC said the FTC settlement does not go far enough. "The FTC should have imposed stronger sanctions on Uber, required the company to disgorge the personal data it had unlawfully obtained, and required the company to restore the original privacy settings," said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
  • Appeals Court OKs Collusive Google Privacy Settlement » (Aug. 23, 2017)
    A divided federal appeals court has upheld a decision that allows Google to continue consumer privacy violations by means of a collusive settlement. Though the case concerns Google's illegal disclosure of personal data from 129 million consumers, the settlement fails to compensate those consumers, does nothing to change Google's business practices, and diverts funds to organizations that don’t protect consumer privacy. The dissenting judge wrote that the settlement "raises a red flag" because "47% of the settlement fund is being donated to the alma maters of class counsel." EPIC twice urged the lower court to reject the settlement, arguing that it did nothing for class members and would allow Google to "continue to engage in the privacy-invading practice." EPIC has long urged courts to reject collusive settlements and has proposed objective criteria for courts to follow in class action cases.
  • After EPIC Privacy Complaint, Uber Settles with FTC » (Aug. 15, 2017)
    After an EPIC complaint about Uber's privacy practices, Uber has entered into a consent agreement with the FTC. The agreement prohibits Uber from misrepresenting how it monitors or secures consumer information. As with most FTC privacy settlements, the agreement also requires Uber to implement a comprehensive privacy program and obtain periodic independent third-party audits. In 2015, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details was an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cited Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission should act. EPIC has previously pursued successful FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
  • EPIC Files FTC Complaint to Stop Google from Tracking In-Store Purchases » (Jul. 31, 2017)
    EPIC has filed a complaint with the FTC asking the Commission to investigate Google's tracking of in-store purchases. According to EPIC, Google collects billions of credit and debit card transactions and then links that personal data to the activities of Internet users. Google claims that it protects online privacy but refuses to reveal details of the algorithm that "deidentifies" consumers while tracking their purchases. EPIC's complaint asks the FTC to stop Google's tracking of in-store purchases and determine whether Google adequately protects consumer privacy. EPIC has filed several successful FTC complaints that led to FTC investigations, including complaints about changes to Facebook's privacy preferences and the launch of Google Buzz. EPIC has also focused on the adequacy of privacy techniques, with complaints against AskEraser (search histories that are not deleted) and Snapchat (images that do not "vanish"). EPIC's recent complaint against Google notes that the company is seeking to extend its dominance of online advertising to the physical world.
  • Google Faces Record Fine for Monopolistic Search Practices » (Jun. 27, 2017)
    European antitrust officials have imposed a $2.7 billion fine on Google for favoring its own services over competitors on Google search, which now dominates 90% of the market in Europe. It is the largest antitrust fine in European history. European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stated "Google has abused its market dominance in search by promoting its own services and demoting its competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It has denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice, and innovation." Google competitors and news organizations, based in the United States, favored the outcome. Over many years, EPIC had urged the US government to take a closer look at Google's anti-competitive practices. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, EPIC warned that Google's growing dominance of online advertising would diminish user privacy and market competition. In a statement to the FTC in 2011, EPIC explained that Google altered the search rankings of YouTube after it acquired the company to preference Google's content over that of competitors and NGOs, including EPIC. In 2012, EPIC told the FTC that "Google's business practices raise concerns related to both competition and the implementation of the Commission's consent order." EPIC later sued the FTC for its failure to enforce the consent order.
  • News Report: FTC to Act on EPIC's Uber Complaint » (Jun. 15, 2017)
    According to news reports, the FTC is pursuing EPIC's privacy complaint regarding Uber. In 2015, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details was an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cited Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission should act. EPIC has previously pursued successful FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC complaints typically lead to settlements following a change in business practices. EPIC has also recommended comprehensive privacy legislation for Uber.
  • EPIC Urges House Committee to Back Consumer Safeguards for Internet of Things » (Jun. 13, 2017)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in advance of a hearing on "IOT Opportunities and Challenges." EPIC raised the "significant privacy and security risks" of the Internet of Things. A recent report from the Pew Research Center on the Internet of Things underscores the need to develop new safeguards for what some call "The Internet of Broken Things." EPIC has been at the forefront of policy efforts to establish safeguards for connected cars, "smart homes," consumer products, and "always on" devices.
  • Pew Survey Explores Internet of Things » (Jun. 6, 2017)
    The Pew Research Center has released a report surveying experts about the security implications of the Internet of Things. The survey found a broad consensus that growth in the IoT will bring with it an increased risk of real-world physical harm. "The essential problem is that it will be impractical for people to disconnect," said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg in the survey. "Cars and homes will become increasingly dependent on internet connectivity. The likely consequence will be more catastrophic events." The ACM recently released a Statement of IoT Privacy and Security, which lists principles for protecting privacy and security in IoT devices. EPIC has been at the forefront of policy work on the Internet of Things, recommending safeguards for connected cars, "smart homes," consumer products, and "always on" devices.
  • EPIC Asks FTC to Stop System for Secret Scoring of Young Athletes » (May. 17, 2017)
    EPIC has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to stop the secret scoring of young tennis players. The EPIC complaint concerns the "Universal Tennis Rating", a proprietary algorithm used to assign numeric scores to tennis players, many of whom are children under 13. "The UTR score defines the status of young athletes in all tennis-related activity; impacts opportunities for scholarship, education and employment; and may in the future provide the basis for 'social scoring' and government rating of citizens," according to EPIC. EPIC urged the FTC to “find that a secret, unprovable, proprietary algorithm to evaluate children is an unfair and deceptive trade practice.” In 2015, EPIC launched a campaign on "Algorithmic Transparency" and has pursued several cases, including one for rating travelers and another for assessing guilt or innocence, that draw attention to the social risks of secret algorithms.
  • Court of Appeals Grants Rehearing in FTC v. AT&T Mobility » (May. 15, 2017)
    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted rehearing of a decision that stripped the FTC of its authority over companies engaged in "common carrier" activities. The grant of rehearing vacates the court's earlier holding that the common carrier exemption to FTC authority is status-based, not activity-based. EPIC and a coalition of consumer advocates had filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging reconsideration of the court's decision, warning that the decision "could immunize from FTC oversight a vast swath of companies that engage in some degree in common carrier activity." EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in FTC v. Wyndham to defend the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards."
  • Spending Measure Increases FTC Funding by $6 Million » (May. 4, 2017)
    The spending measure recently approved by Congress allocates $313 million to the FTC for fiscal 2017. According to the Senate summary, the allocation is for the FTC "to detect and eliminate illegal collusion, prevent anticompetitive mergers, combat consumer fraud, fight identity theft and promote consumer privacy." The amount is an increase of $6 million, or about 2 percent, over 2016 levels. EPIC has consistently urged the FTC to exercise its full authority in protecting consumers and has filed numerous consumer privacy complaints with the FTC, including a recent complaint about "toys that spy." Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition detailed 10 steps for the FTC to protect consumers in 2017.
  • Senators Blumenthal and Udall Introduce Online Privacy Bill » (Apr. 27, 2017)
    Senators Richard Blumental (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) have introduced the Managing Your Data Against Telecom Abuses (MY DATA) Act. The MY DATA Act would grant the FTC jurisdiction over broadband providers, as well the authority to establish rules for privacy and data security online. "In the 21st century, internet access is a basic necessity. And signing up for a basic necessity should never mean you have to sign away your rights to privacy," said Senator Blumenthal. EPIC has previously told Congress that the FTC has not done enough to safeguard consumer privacy, citing the Commission's failure to enforce settlement agreements or to modify proposed settlements based on public comments. EPIC has also proposed comprehensive consumer privacy laws to combat the growing threats of data breaches, identity theft, and financial fraud.
  • European Privacy Officials Raise Concerns About US Immigration Executive Order » (Feb. 22, 2017)
    The Article 29 Working Party, an expert group of European privacy officials, has raised concerns over a provision in the immigration Executive Order that would limit Privacy Act protections. The Working Party is seeking assurance from the US that the change will not threaten the privacy rights of non-US citizens established in the "Privacy Shield" and the Umbrella Agreement. EPIC is currently participating in Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook, a case following a landmark decision that found insufficient legal protections for the transfer of European consumer data to the US.
  • EPIC, Coalition Recommend 10 Steps for the FTC to Protect Consumers in 2017 » (Feb. 16, 2017)
    EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission recommending 10 steps the agency should take to protect consumers and promote competition in 2017. "American consumers today are at great risk of identity theft, financial fraud, and data breaches," the coalition wrote, arguing that "proactive efforts to strengthen data protection will spur innovation and support business models that are sustainable over time." The letter asks the FTC to increase its enforcement efforts, promote transparency, and pursue actions based on unfairness instead of relying on "notice and choice." EPIC has consistently urged the FTC to exercise its full authority in protecting consumers. EPIC has also filed numerous consumer privacy complaints with the FTC, including a recent complaint about "toys that spy."
  • Acting FTC Chair Outlines Consumer Protection Priorities » (Feb. 6, 2017)
    In a recent speech, Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen outlined her priorities for consumer protection. Ohlhausen recognized that "a notice-and-choice approach to privacy may not adequately protect consumers" but advocated a market-focused "harms-based approach" to privacy. She pointed to recent settlements with Ashley Madison and Eli Lilly as cases involving significant non-financial harm to consumers. Ohlhausen also proposed making the results of all FTC data security investigations public, not only those that result in enforcement actions. EPIC supports increased transparency in FTC actions but has explained in comments to the FTC and FCC and in testimony before Congress that "notice and choice" and "harms based" approaches are insufficient to protect consumer privacy.
  • FTC Reaches Settlement with VIZIO Over Smart TV Tracking » (Feb. 6, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission has reached a $2.2 million settlement with smart TV manufacturer VIZIO over the company's tracking of consumers' viewing habits without their knowledge or consent. The FTC's complaint alleged that VIZIO's collection and sale of viewing data was unfair and deceptive, and the settlement agreement requires the company to delete all viewing data. EPIC previously filed a complaint with the FTC over Samsung's smart TV data collection practices, including surveillance of consumers' private conversations. EPIC has also defended the privacy of consumers' TV viewing habits in a federal court case involving the Video Privacy Protection Act.
  • EPIC Urges Congress to Examine "Connected Devices," Safeguard Consumer Privacy and Protect Public Safety » (Feb. 2, 2017)
    EPIC sent a letter to a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in advance of a hearing on the NTIA, a key technology policy agency. EPIC warned that "American consumers face unprecedented privacy and security threats," citing recent examples of hacks of devices, including home locks and cars, connected to the internet. EPIC said that Congress and the NTIA should establish protections that minimize the collection of personal data and promote security for Internet-connected devices. EPIC warned of growing risks to consumer safety and public safety. EPIC has testified before Congress, litigated cases, and filed complaints with the FTC regarding connected cars, "smart homes," consumer products, and "always on" devices.
  • Trump Order Threatens Consumer Protection, Public Safety » (Jan. 31, 2017)
    The President has issued an executive order requiring every new regulation to be offset by the repeal of at least two existing regulations. The Order could directly impact rules that safeguard consumers against data breach, financial fraud, and identity theft. EPIC has also recommended new public safety regulations concerning aerial drones, connected vehicles, and the Internet of Things. In EPIC v. FAA, EPIC is challenging the failure of the agency to protect the public from aerial surveillance.
  • FTC Issues Report on Cross-Device Tracking » (Jan. 26, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued Cross-Device Tracking: An FTC Staff Report, which describes online tracking technology used to link a consumer's activity across smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other internet-connected devices. The report follows from an FTC workshop on this emerging practice. EPIC filed comments with the Commission urging limits on cross-device tracking, which presents significant privacy challenges due to the "lack of transparency and control in this undetectable online tracking scheme." EPIC explained how "notice and choice" fails to protect consumers from this surreptitious activity. The FTC's report recommends continued industry-self regulation and application of the unworkable "notice and choice" approach to this new practice.
  • EPIC Urges Senate Committee to Safeguard Consumer Privacy in Internet of Things and Telemarketing Bills » (Jan. 24, 2017)
    EPIC sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee on Monday about privacy and security concerns in two pending bills. The DIGIT Act would "encourage the growth" of the Internet of Things and "help identify barriers to its advancement." The Spoofing Prevention Act would extend the laws prohibiting Caller ID spoofing to text messages, international calls, and Voice-over-IP calls. EPIC pointed out the "significant privacy and security risks" to American consumers of the Internet of Things. EPIC also argued for "a requirement that any automated calls reveal (1) the actual identity of the caller and (2) the purpose of the call." EPIC has been at the forefront of policy work on the Internet of Things, recommending safeguards for connected cars, "smart homes," consumer products, and "always on" devices. EPIC also supports robust telephone privacy protections and recently advised Congress on modernizing telemarketing rules.
  • FTC Sues D-Link Over Poor Security in Internet Routers and Cameras » (Jan. 12, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against Internet of Things device maker D-Link. The complaint alleges that D-Link failed to use adequate security in its internet cameras and routers despite promises that the devices were "easy to secure" and used "advanced network security." The poor security practices alleged by the FTC include using easily-guessed default passwords, mishandling code-signing keys, and storing usernames and passwords in plaintext. EPIC has worked extensively on the risks of the Internet of Things, recommending safeguards for connected cars, "smart homes," and "always on" devices. In 2013, EPIC submitted comments to the FTC addressing the security and privacy risks of IoT devices.
  • FTC Responds to EPIC, Consumer Groups About Toys That Spy » (Jan. 11, 2017)
    The Federal Trade Commission has responded to EPIC's complaint about toys that spy, promising to "carefully review" the filing. EPIC's complaint, filed last month and joined by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, and Consumers Union, alleges that the internet-connected children's toys My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot violate federal privacy laws. The complaint is part of coordinated, international efforts to ban these toys from the marketplace. Walmart, Toys "R" Us, and stores across Europe have already pulled the toys from their shelves. EPIC's complaint has also spurred a congressional investigation by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) into the data practices of toymaker Genesis Toys and speech technology developer Nuance Communications.
  • Center for Investigative Reporting: Uber Continues to Abuse Locational Data » (Dec. 21, 2016)
    A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting finds that Uber continues to allow employees broad access to rider location data, raising questions of whether the transportation service is violating the terms of a settlement with New York’s Attorney General. According to the report, "Uber gave thousands of employees access to where and when each customer travels." Uber recently changed the terms of service and expanded the collection of users location data. Uber also faces legal action in Europe over whether it should be considered a transportation service or digital platform. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC, charging that Uber’s plan to track users and gather contact details is an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. That complaint, like many other consumer privacy complaints, is still pending before the Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC, International Consumer Coalition Urges Recall on "Toys That Spy" » (Dec. 6, 2016)
    #toyfail imageEPIC has filed a landmark complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about “toys that spy.” The complaint alleges that My Friend Cayla and i-Que Robot violate federal privacy law. “The toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance,” EPIC said in a statement. The EPIC complaint targets manufacturer Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications and describes how Internet-connected toys pose ongoing serious safety threats to children. EPIC’s complaint, joined by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, and Consumers Union, is part of coordinated effort to ban these toys from the marketplace. The complaint follows earlier efforts by the Norwegian Consumer Council. EPIC warned Congress about the risks of the Internet of Things, and filed complaints with the FTC about “always on” devices and “smart TVs.”
  • Uber Expands Data Collection, Tracks Users, as Transport Services Case is Heard by European Court » (Dec. 1, 2016)
    Uber is now routinely tracking the location of all of its users, even when they are not using the transportation service. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC after Uber announced the plan to collect location data when the app operated in the background. EPIC said that Uber had engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practice. The FTC failed to act and Uber is now tracking users non-stop. In Europe, Uber is facing legal action as the European Court of Justice considers whether the company should be considered a transportation service, subject to the same rules as its competitors, or a digital platform, which operates outside the law.
  • EPIC Asks FTC to Continue "Disposal Rule" » (Nov. 21, 2016)
    In comments to the FTC, EPIC continued support for the FTC's Disposal Rule, which requires that businesses to take reasonable steps to protect consumer information against unauthorized access or use. EPIC told the FTC that the Rule protects consumers from identity theft. EPIC backed the initial Disposal Rule. In the 2016 comments, EPIC explained that information that can identify an individual should be covered by the rule.
  • UK Information Commissioner Suspends WhatsApp Data Transfer to Facebook » (Nov. 8, 2016)
    Facebook has agreed to suspend targeted advertising for UKWhatsApp users. The decision follows an investigation by UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. "I don't think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information," Denham stated. WhatsApp announced in August that it would transfer its users verified phone numbers to Facebook in violation of previous privacy promises. EPIC then filed a complaint with the FTC and more than a dozen US consumer groups backed the efforts. Then European Union privacy officials and officials in Spain, Germany, India, and Italy opened investigations. Back in the US, the Commission said it will "carefully review" EPIC's complaint. The FTC has previously stated, "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises."
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Strengthen "Safeguard Rule" » (Nov. 8, 2016)

    In comments to the FTC, EPIC has asked the agency to strengthen the  Safeguards Rule, which sets out basic security standards for the processing of consumer information. EPIC urged the agency to expand the scope of the Rule, which now only applies to financial institutions. EPIC also recommended that the FTC mandate compliance with the Rule and require data minimization. EPIC has previously urged the Commission to enforce the Safeguards Rule against both financial and non-financial institutions and has also recommended data minimization to safeguard consumer privacy.

  • EPIC, Consumer Coalition Defend FTC Authority Over Common Carriers » (Nov. 7, 2016)
    EPIC joined a coalition of consumer advocates to challenge a recent federal court decision that would limit the Federal Trade Commission's authority over companies engaged in "common carrier" activities. In an amicus brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the consumer coalition urged reconsideration of the court's decision that the common carrier exemption to FTC authority is status-based, not activity-based. The brief warned the decision "could immunize from FTC oversight a vast swath of companies that engage in some degree in common carrier activity." Internet companies such as Google that offer some broadband service could be entirely exempt from consumer protection regulation. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in FTC v. Wyndham to defend the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards."
  • House Members Urge FTC to Examine Internet-of-Things » (Nov. 4, 2016)
    In the wake of October's massive distributed denial of service attack, two members of Congress have sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urging the FTC to protect consumers from insecure Internet of Things devices. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote that the FTC should "immediately use all the tools at its disposal to ensure that manufacturers of IoT devices implement strong security measures." EPIC is at the forefront of policy work on the Internet of Things, recommending safeguards for connected cars, "smart homes," 'consumer products, and "always on" devices. EPIC recently urged the federal government to establish legal requirements to promote Privacy Enhancing Technologies, limit user tracking, minimize data collection, and "ensure security in both design and operation of Internet-connected devices."
  • Google "Quietly" Changes Privacy Policy, Matches Tracking Data and User ID » (Oct. 25, 2016)
    Ars Technica reported this week that Google "quietly" changed its privacy policy this summer to combine tracking data and user ID - data it had previously promised to keep separated. The revised policy now says that "your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information" for ad delivery. In 2007, EPIC urged the FTC to block Google's proposed acquisition of Doubleclick, warning that Google would eventually link the Google user profile with the Doubleclick data despite the company's representations. When the FTC approved the merger without conditions, EPIC responded that the FTC "had reason to act and authority to act, and failed to do so." Currently before the FTC is a complaint from EPIC concerning WhatsApp plan to transfer user data to Facebook, breaking a privacy promise made by the company at the time of the 2014 acquisition to act "independently and autonomously."
  • FTC's Data Protection Authority Under Attack in LabMD Case » (Oct. 18, 2016)
    A medical testing lab has petitioned a federal appeals court to reject the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce data security standards. The commission recently found that LabMD's poor data security practices, which led to a breach of personal medical data, were "unfair" under the FTC Act and ordered the company to take corrective measures. "[T]he privacy harm resulting from the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive health or medical information is in and of itself a substantial injury," the commission explained. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in FTC v. Wyndham, a similar case in which another appeals court upheld the FTC's data protection authority. The court in that case stated, "A company does not act equitably when it publishes a privacy policy to attract customers who are concerned about data privacy, fails to make good on that promise by investing inadequate resources in cybersecurity, exposes its unsuspecting customers to substantial financial injury, and retains the profits of their business."
  • WhatsApp Privacy Update: Spain Investigating Broken Privacy Promises » (Oct. 14, 2016)
    Spain is the latest country to investigate WhatsApp's transfer of user data, including the verified user phone number, to Facebook. The Spanish Data Protection Agency joins privacy regulators in Germany, India, Italy, and the U.K. that have taken action against WhatsApp's changes to privacy practices that contradict previous promises. EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the policy change in August, and more than a dozen consumer groups have backed these efforts. The Commission said it will "carefully review" EPIC's complaint. The FTC has previously stated, "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises."
  • FTC Hosts Event on Drones and Privacy » (Oct. 13, 2016)
    Today the Federal Trade Commission will host a panel discussion on drones and privacy as part of the agency's Fall Technology Series. The Director of EPIC's Domestic Surveillance Project, Jeramie Scott, will participate in the panel. Mr. Scott previously testified before the Pennsylvania Senate on domestic drone surveillance and submitted a statement for record regarding a Maryland bill to limit drone surveillance. EPIC and leading experts previously urged the FAA to adopt privacy rules for drones, and when the agency refused, EPIC sued. EPIC v. FAA is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Supreme Court Won't Review Privacy Violations by Facebook, Google » (Oct. 4, 2016)
    The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review two important consumer privacy cases: K.D. v. Facebook, a suit challenging Facebook’s use of young childrens’ names and images in advertising without consent, and Gourley v. Google, a suit opposing Google’s covert use of web cookies to track browsing habits. In K.D., consumers urged the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit opinion, which upheld a controversial settlement. EPIC filed an amicus brief in a companion case, Fraley v. Facebook, explaining that a settlement is unfair that allows a company to continue to engage in privacy violations. In Gourley, consumers asked the Court to overrule a Third Circuit decision holding that Google's exploitation of browser privacy loopholes did not violate the Wiretap Act or Stored Communications Act.
  • India Joins International Opposition to WhatsApp Privacy Changes » (Sep. 30, 2016)
    India’s Deli High Court has ordered WhatsApp not to transfer to Facebook any user data that was collected prior to September 25, 2016, and to delete data of users who opted out of WhatsApp’s new data transfer policy prior to that date. Last month, WhatsApp announced it would begin transferring user data, including verified phone numbers, to Facebook in violation of previous privacy promises. Germany has also ordered Facebook to immediately stop collecting and storing user data from WhatsApp, and to delete all WhatsApp user data already transferred. EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over the policy change, and more than a dozen consumer groups have backed these efforts. The FTC’s latest response to the consumer coalition emphasized “FTC staff’s position that companies must obtain affirmative express (opt-in) consent before making material, retroactive changes to privacy promises.” The FTC has previously stated, “When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises.”
  • Germany Prohibits WhatsApp Data Transfer to Facebook » (Sep. 27, 2016)
    Germany’s privacy regulator has ordered Facebook to immediately stop collecting and storing user data from WhatsApp, and to delete all WhatsApp user data that has already been transferred. In a statement, German officials said that WhatsApp’s new data transfer policy constitutes “an infringement of national data protection law.” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has also opened an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy changes, which contradict previous commitments to users and regulators. EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over the policy change, and more than a dozen consumer groups have backed these efforts. The FTC responded it would “carefully review” EPIC’s complaint. The FTC has previously stated, “When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises.”
  • EPIC Tells Congress FTC Must Do More for Consumer Privacy » (Sep. 26, 2016)
    EPIC has sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee in advance of an oversight hearing on the Federal Trade Commission. EPIC explained that the FTC has not done enough to safeguard consumer privacy, citing the Commission's failure to enforce settlement agreements or to modify proposed settlements based on public comments. "The FTC’s failure to act in the face of mounting threats to consumer privacy and security could be catastrophic," EPIC warned. EPIC  also proposed comprehensive consumer privacy laws to combat the growing threats of data breaches, identity theft, and financial fraud. Public opinion polls show broad public support for new US privacy laws.
  • Consumer Groups Back Call for FTC to Investigate WhatsApp » (Sep. 22, 2016)
    More than a dozen US consumer organizations have asked the Federal Trade Commission to pursue the complaint EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy filed about WhatsApp’s plan to transfer user data to Facebook. The EPIC-CDD complaint said that the changes to WhatsApp contradict promises  to users that personal information would not be used for marketing purposes.  The FTC has said "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises." The FTC responded that it would “carefully review” EPIC’s complaint. The consumer coalition letter urges the Commission to “fulfill its duty to protect consumer privacy, and to investigate and enjoin WhatsApp and Facebook’s proposed change in business practices.” 
  • FTC Seeks Comments on the "Disposal Rule" for Consumer Data » (Sep. 13, 2016)
    The Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comments on the "Disposal Rule." The Disposal Rule requires that companies delete consumer data and to protect against unauthorized use of the data. The Commission seeks comment on a variety of issues including cost-benefits analysis and industry compliance. EPIC supported the implementation of the Disposal Rule in 2004 and continues to advocate for data protection measures. EPIC has also promoted Privacy Enhancing Techniques that minimize or eliminate the collection of personal information. Identity theft continues to be the top consumer complaint reported to the Commission.
  • FTC Responds to EPIC's Complaint about WhatsApp » (Sep. 7, 2016)
    The Federal Trade Commission has responded to the EPIC and Center for Digital Democracy complaint about WhatsApp's plan to transfer user data, including verified phone numbers, to Facebook. The FTC stated that it prohibits companies from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices and will enforce its 2012 Consent Order with Facebook. The FTC letter also acknowledged that the EPIC-CDD complaint “contains allegations regarding statements WhatsApp has made about how it limits the use of mobile phone numbers or other personally identifiable information." The FTC said it will "carefully review" EPIC’s complaint. EPIC and CDD wrote that WhatsApp's plan to transfer user data to Facebook for user profiling and targeted advertising - without first obtaining users' opt-in consent - contradicts numerous FTC statements and violates Section 5 of the FTC Act. EPIC and CDD previously warned the Commission that it must protect the privacy interests of WhatsApp users following the acquisition by Facebook.
  • EPIC, CDD Charge WhatsApp Policy Change Unlawful, Urge FTC to Act » (Aug. 29, 2016)
    EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy have filed a complaint with the FTC concerning WhatsApp’s plan to transfer user data, including personal phone numbers, to Facebook. This reversal contradicts WhatsApp’s previous promises to users that their personal information would not be disclosed and would not be used for marketing purposes. EPIC said that WhatsApp change in business practices is unlawful and that the FTC is obligated to act. EPIC previously filed a complaint with the FTC over Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014. In response, the FTC warned the two companies they must honor their privacy promises to users. The FTC has said "When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises."
  • Facebook to Collect WhatsApp User Data, Violating FTC Order and Privacy Promises » (Aug. 25, 2016)
    WhatsApp has announced plans to disclose user information to Facebook, including phone numbers and other user data, that will be connected with Facebook profiles. Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014, and the companies promised users of the privacy-protective messaging service that “nothing” will change for WhatsApp users' privacy. EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over the deal, and the FTC responded by warning the two companies that they must honor their privacy promises to WhatsApp users. The letter explained that failure to obtain users' opt-in consent before changing data practices would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice and violate Facebook’s FTC Consent Order. WhatsApp’s recent announcement indicates users will have 30 days to opt-out of data transfers to Facebook, in violation of the law and the FTC’s Order.  In 2012, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations also led a successful effort at the FTC after Facebook changed the privacy settings of its users. As a result, Facebook is subject to an FTC consent order.
  • FTC Finds Unauthorized Data Disclosure is "Substantial Injury" to Consumers » (Aug. 2, 2016)
    The Federal Trade Commission unanimously reversed an administrative law judge's dismissal of the FTC's complaint against LabMD, finding that LabMD's poor data security practices are "unfair" under the FTC Act. The Commission concluded that the judge had "applied the wrong legal standard for unfairness." The FTC's opinion explained that "the privacy harm resulting from the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive health or medical information is in and of itself a substantial injury." The FTC's authority to enforce data security standards was upheld last year in FTC v. Wyndham. EPIC filed an amicus brief in Wyndham, defending the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards."
  • EPIC Ask FTC to Investigate Privacy Risks of Pokemon GO » (Jul. 22, 2016)
    EPIC has urged the FTC to launch an investigation of Pokemon GO and the app's developer Niantic. When the augmented-reality app was first released, Niantic granted itself "full access" to users' Google accounts in violation of federal privacy law. Even after recent changes, the company continues to collect detailed location history and has access to smartphone cameras. Pokemon GO "raises complex and novel privacy issues that require close FTC scrutiny," EPIC told the Commission. Senator Al Franken recently sent a letter to the company asking for clarification on the scope and purpose of its data collection. Niantic has close ties to Google and its CEO oversaw Google's controversial Street View project, which was found to collect private wifi data transmissions.
  • FTC Issues Guidelines for Employment Background Screening » (May. 15, 2016)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued new guidelines for companies that sell employment background checks.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act  companies must ensure “maximum possible accuracy” in reports about job applicants. The FTC warns that a background report incorrectly listing a criminal conviction based on bad records match —for instance, a person with a different middle name than the applicant—could violate FCRA. EPIC recently filed an amicus brief in a case brought by David A. Smith, who was denied employment after a background report incorrectly included the criminal records of David O. Smith.
  • Federal Court Upholds Photo Tagging Suit Against Facebook » (May. 8, 2016)
    A federal judge has rejected Facebook's argument that the company did not violate an Illinois law that requires companies to obtain consent from consumers before collecting biometric data such as a "faceprint." Describing the biometric privacy law, the court said that Facebook's position was "antithetical to its broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology." In 2011, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that the facial identification of users was an unfair and deceptive trade practice. In 2012, EPIC urged the FTC to suspend facial recognition "until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established." Canada and Europe have since required Facebook to suspend the use of photo tagging.
  • FTC Increases Scrutiny of Google's Practices, Implicating Antitrust and Privacy Interests » (Apr. 27, 2016)
    The FTC has reportedly expanded its investigation into Google's use of the Android operating system to exclude or demote competing services. The Commission’s increased scrutiny comes shortly after the European Commission filed formal antitrust charges against Google. Last fall, the FTC began looking at whether Google unfairly prioritizes its own products after earlier ending a similar investigation in 2012 though staff recommended litigation. EPIC previously urged the Senate and the FTC to investigate Google's dominance of essential Internet services, warning that monopoly practices implicate privacy interests. EPIC had opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which the FTC approved over the objection of Commissioner Pamela Harbor, who cited the connection between monopoly practices and privacy violations.
  • Senate Examines FTC's Antitrust Enforcement » (Apr. 13, 2016)
    The Senate Judiciary Committee recently examined the scope and application of the FTC's Section 5 antitrust enforcement authority at the hearing "Section 5 and 'Unfair Methods of Competition': Protecting Competition or Increasing Uncertainty?" EPIC Advisory Board member Tim Wu testified in support of the agency's approach, which he called "an important protection for competition." EPIC has urged the FTC to use Section 5 authority to protect consumers, arguing against Google's acquisition of DoubleClick and Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. EPIC has also recommended a transparent process for evaluation of substantial changes in business practices by companies subject to FTC consent orders.
  • EPIC to FTC: Google's April Fool's Disaster Likely Violates Consent Order » (Apr. 1, 2016)
    Google's April Fool's joke — a change in the operation of Gmail without user consent — has backfired, spectacularly. Many Gmail users inadvertently enabled the "Mic Drop" button on important emails, allowing Google to insert a GIF into their reply and then irreversibly mute the conversation. Users were outraged and Google reversed the change. EPIC informed the FTC that Google's prank also likely violates the FTC's 2011 consent order with the company following the rollout of Google Buzz. EPIC has repeatedly urged the FTC to enforce this consent order against Google, which requires the company to obtain "express affirmative consent" before changing its business practices.
  • FTC Issues Warning on Cross-Device Tracking and Surveillance Apps » (Mar. 22, 2016)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings to 12 Android app developers that use audio beacons to track consumers across their devices and monitor TV viewing habits. The smartphone apps contain Silverpush software that constantly listens for inaudible signals emitted by TV commercials and secretly collects and transmits viewing data. The announcement appears to be a response to two earlier complaints filed by EPIC with the Commission. EPIC previously urged the FTC to limit "cross-device tracking" technology that links consumers' smartphone activity with what they see on their laptop or television. EPIC also urged the FTC and the Department of Justice to investigate "always-on" consumer devices for possible violations of the Wiretap Act, state privacy laws, or the FTC Act.
  • Court Upholds Facebook Settlement, Allows Continued Use of Kids' Images in Ads » (Jan. 14, 2016)
    A federal appeals court has upheld a 2013 settlement agreement in Fraley v. Facebook, a consumer privacy class action involving Facebook's use of young children's names and images for advertising without consent. That practice is currently prohibited in seven states. Questions were also raised about the cy pres determinations. In dissent, Judge Bea stated that the "district court abused its discretion in approving the final settlement." In an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit, EPIC urged the appeals court to overturn the deal, explaining that the settlement is unfair to class members and authorizes continued privacy violations. In 2010, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations filed an extensive complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that eventually required Facebook to improve its privacy practices.
  • FTC Issues Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptive "Native" Advertising » (Dec. 22, 2015)
    The FTC has issued an enforcement policy statement on the use of "native" advertisements and other deceptive advertising that appear to be non-advertising content. The FTC's statement affirmed that ads must clearly be identifiable to consumers as advertising and not editorial content. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Fraley v. Facebook objecting to Facebook's "Sponsored Stories" that implied the user endorsed the brand to their friends. EPIC's prior complaint to the FTC regarding Facebook's privacy practices helped establish privacy rules for the social media network.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Consumers Amid Surge in Cross-Device Tracking » (Dec. 17, 2015)
    EPIC filed comments with the FTC on a new advertising practice with significant privacy implications. EPIC urged the FTC to limit "cross-device tracking," linking what a person types on their phone with what they see on their laptop or television. EPIC said the FTC should use its enforcement authority to investigate device tracking practices. EPIC also said the FTC should prohibit the cross-device tracking of minors. EPIC has played a leading role in developing the FTC's privacy authority. Several EPIC complaints are currently pending before the FTC, concerning "always on" devices, Uber's privacy policy, and Facebook's Psychological Study.
  • Administrative Decision Tosses LabMD Data Security Case » (Nov. 21, 2015)
    An administrative law judge has dismissed an FTC complaint alleging that LabMD failed to provide reasonable data security for personal information. The admin judge found that the FTC's regulation of unfair trade practices requires a showing that consumer harm was "probable," not just "possible." The decision--which is not binding on federal or state courts--leaves in place the decision in FTC v. Wyndham, which held that the FTC can enforce data security standards. EPIC filed an amicus brief in Wyndham, defending the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards."
  • Not So Picture Perfect: Snapchat Will Store User Content Forever » (Nov. 2, 2015)
    Snapchat, a popular mobile app that promised "to vanish" user messages, photos, and videos, will now store user content forever, following changes to its terms and conditions. Snapchat now claims the right to "host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, . . .and publicly display" users' content forever. This change may violate the 2014 consent order with the Federal Trade Commission, which prohibits Snapchat from making false claims about how the company protects user information. The FTC's 2014 consent order resulted from EPIC's complaint which stated that the company violated Section 5 because "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted."
  • News Reports: FTC Investigating Google Anti-Competitive Practices » (Sep. 28, 2015)
    According to the New York Times and Bloomberg News, the FTC is investigating whether Google unfairly prioritizes its own products on the Android platform. Google bundles several Google products on the Andriod platform and requires manufacturers to install them directly onto smartphones. DOJ pursued antitrust violations against Microsoft for this type of "tying" or "bundling" practice. EPIC previously urged the Senate and the FTC to investigate Google's business practices because of the privacy implications. EPIC had opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which the FTC approved over the objection of former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbor, who cited the close ties between monopoly practices and privacy violations.
  • FTC Approves Final Order With Nomi Over Location Tracking » (Sep. 9, 2015)
    The FTC has finalized an order with Nomi Technologies resolving allegations that Nomi engaged in deceptive trade practices. Nomi, a company that provides retailers with in-store analytics via sensor-based tracking of customers' mobile devices, falsely promised customers the ability to opt-out at stores using its services. The FTC order prohibits Nomi from misrepresenting its privacy practices in the future. EPIC has pursued several important consumer privacy issues at the FTC leading to settlements, including Google, Snapchat, Facebook and other firms. EPIC currently has a complaint pending at the FTC concerning Uber and locational tracking.
  • Appeals Court Upholds FTC's Data Security Authority » (Aug. 24, 2015)
    A federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission can enforce data security standards. In FTC v. Wyndham, the agency sued Wyndham hotels after the company exposed financial data of hundreds of thousands of customers. The company argued that the FTC lacked authority to enforce security standards, but the court disagreed. EPIC filed an amicus brief, joined by leading technical experts and legal scholars, defending the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards." EPIC explained that data breaches, which have caused more than $500 million in damages last year alone, are one of the top concerns of American consumers.
  • Without Public Comment, FTC Narrows Section 5 Authority » (Aug. 14, 2015)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued a "Statement of Principles Regarding Enforcement of FTC Act as a Competition Statute." The Principles appear to narrow the ability of the Commission to pursue unfair business practices and were announced without any formal opportunity for public comment. Chairwoman Ramirez said that the Statement makes "time-honored principles explicit; it does not signal any change of course in our enforcement practices and priorities." Commissioner Olhausen dissented and noted the lack of opportunity for public comment. EPIC and others have urged the FTC to use Section 5 authority to address growing concerns about industry consolidation and privacy protection. EPIC has also noted the failure of the FTC to incorporate public comments in its proceedings, as required by law.
  • FTC Sues LifeLock For Violating Consent Agreement » (Jul. 22, 2015)
    The Federal Trade Commission has filed suit in federal district court against the identity theft-protection company LifeLock for violating a 2010 consent order. The FTC previously charged LifeLock with using false claims to promote its services and prohibited the company from making false claims in the future. Now, the Commission has charged LifeLock with failing to safeguard consumer data and continuing to falsely advertise to consumers, in violation of the 2010 order. EPIC has repeatedly urged the FTC to enforce consent orders and to make its review process transparent to the public. In 2012 EPIC sued the agency for its failure to enforce a consent order against Google after the company changed its privacy practices.
  • Senators Markey and Blumenthal Introduce Bill to Protect Drivers from Remote Hacking » (Jul. 21, 2015)
    Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced the "Security and Privacy in Your Car Act of 2015." The SPY Car Act would establish cybersecurity and privacy requirements for new passenger vehicles, and inform consumers about the risks of remote hacking. The SPY Car Act follows a report from Senator Markey, which "detailed major gaps in how auto companies are securing connected features in cars against hackers." The bill would also prohibit manufacturers from using consumer driver data for marketing purposes without consumer consent. EPIC has urged the Transportation Department to protect driver privacy. EPIC has written extensively on interconnected devices, including cars, known as the "Internet of Things" and has also said that "cars should not spy on drivers."
  • EPIC Urges Investigation of "Always On" Consumer Devices » (Jul. 9, 2015)
    EPIC has asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to conduct a workshop on 'Always-On' Consumer Devices. EPIC described the increasing presence of internet-connected devices in consumer's homes, such as TVs, toys, and thermostats, that routinely record and store private communications. EPIC urged the agencies to conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine whether "always on" devices violate the Wiretap Act, state privacy laws, or the FTC Act. Earlier this year, EPIC filed a formal complaint with the FTC concerning Samsung TV, arguing that the recording of private communications in the home is an unfair and deceptive trade practice.
  • EPIC Files FTC Complaint Against Uber about Plan to Track Users and Gather Contact List Data » (Jun. 22, 2015)
    EPIC has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details is an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cites Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission must act. EPIC has also recommended comprehensive legislation for Uber and other similar companies. EPIC has previously pursued successful complaints at the FTC concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and other firms. The complaints typically lead to investigations and then to settlements following a change in business practices.
  • EPIC Pursues Investigation of FTC's 2012 Investigation of Google » (Mar. 26, 2015)
    EPIC has filed a FOIA request with the Federal Trade Commission, reopening a 2013 FOIA request from EPIC regarding the Commission's Google antitrust investigation. After the agency closed the investigation in 2013, EPIC asked for agency communications with the White House. The FTC denied having any such records. Now, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the Chairman of the FTC attended White House meetings on the same day as Google lobbyists. EPIC also filed a request this week for the FTC staff reports recommending that the agency file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.
  • European Court of Justice Hears Case Challenging "Safe Harbor" Agreement and NSA Spying » (Mar. 24, 2015)
    The Court of Justice for the European Union heard arguments this week in Maximilian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, a case filed in Ireland following the revelations of the NSA PRISM program. At issue is whether the disclosure of EU citizens' data by Facebook and other Internet companies to the NSA violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and whether the EU-US "Safe Harbor" agreement provides "adequate" data protection. A decision is likely later this year. Schrems is the recipient of the 2013 EPIC International Privacy Champion Award.
  • EPIC Pursues Reports from FTC's 2012 Investigation of Google » (Mar. 24, 2015)
    EPIC has filed a FOIA request with the Federal Trade Commission, seeking the two reports prepared by agency staff during the 2012 Google antitrust investigation. After the agency closed the investigation in 2013, asked for for agency communications with the White House. Now, the Wall Street Journal has obtained a report revealing that the Commission ignored recommendations to reform Google's anticompetitive practices. EPIC warned the FTC in 2011 about Google's search ranking manipulation after the company acquired YouTube.
  • Wall Street Journal Reveals FTC Ignored Google's Anticompetitive Practices » (Mar. 23, 2015)
    According to an internal document obtained by the WSJ, in 2012 the Federal Trade Commission ignored recommendations to reform Google's anticompetitive practices. The FTC staff report concluded that Google's "conduct has resulted-and will result-in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets." The internal FTC report said the company illegally took content from rival websites to improve its own rankings and "[w]hen competitors asked Google to stop taking their content, it threatened to remove them from its search engine. The report also found that Google altered search results "to benefit its own services at the expense of rivals." In 2011 EPIC detailed for the FTC Google's manipulation of rankings for a search on the term "privacy" after it acquired YouTube. EPIC pursued an FOIA request for agency communications with the White House after the agency closed investigation.
  • EPIC Files Comments with FTC on Merger Review and Consumer Privacy » (Mar. 18, 2015)
    EPIC, along with 26 technical experts and legal scholars, has submitted extensive comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. EPIC urged the Commission to consider the privacy risks to consumers that result from the merger of big data firms. The comments detailed EPIC's efforts, over 15 years, to warn the FTC about such mergers as Abacus and DoubleClick, then DoubleClick and Google, AOL and Time Warner, and most recently Facebook and WhatsApp. EPIC urged the FTC to asses both competitive and privacy impacts of merger, and to enforce privacy commitments prior to granting merger approval.
  • Federal Courts Considers FTC's Data Protection Authority » (Mar. 3, 2015)
    A federal appeals court heard arguments today in FTC v. Wyndham, an important data privacy case. Wyndham Hotels, which revealed hundreds of thousands of customer records following a data breach, is challenging the FTC's authority to enforce data security standards. In an amicus brief joined by legal scholars and technical experts, EPIC defended the FTC's "critical role in safeguarding consumer privacy and promoting stronger security standards." EPIC explained that the damage caused by data breaches - more than $500 million last year - makes data security one of the top concerns of American consumers. EPIC warned the court that "removing the FTC's authority to regulate data security would be to bring dynamite to the dam."
  • EPIC Challenges Samsung's Surveillance of the Home, Files FTC Complaint » (Feb. 24, 2015)
    EPIC has filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about Samsung's SmartTvs. "Samsung routinely intercepts and records the private communications of consumers in their homes," EPIC wrote. EPIC detailed widespread consumer objections and charged that "privacy notices" do not diminish the harm to American consumers. In setting out the privacy violations, EPIC cited the FTC Act, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, The Cable Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. EPIC also noted a recent speech of FTC Chair Edith Ramirez about privacy and consumer products. EPIC asked the FTC to enjoin Samsung and other companies that engage in similar practices.
  • Senator Markey Report Warns of Risks with "Connected Cars" » (Feb. 10, 2015)
    A report from Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) finds lax privacy practices at leading auto manufacturers. The Senator said the safeguards in the auto industry for data collection are "inconsistent" and "haphazard." The investigation also revealed, "automobile manufacturers collect large amounts of data on driving history and vehicle performance." Senator Markey has called on the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission to issue rules to protect driver privacy and security. EPIC has urged the Department of Transportation to protect driver privacy. EPIC has written extensively on interconnected devices, including cars, known as the "Internet of Things" and said also that "cars should not spy on drivers."
  • Consumer Groups Urge FTC Review of Data Consolidation » (Feb. 9, 2015)
    A coalition of consumer groups has asked the Federal Trade Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the impact on the American public of the growing consolidation of consumer data in the digital marketing industry. The groups asked the FTC to launch an investigation and hold a public workshop on protecting privacy in online transactions. EPIC has repeatedly urged the FTC to undertake a similar review. In 2007, EPIC opposed Google's acquisition of Doubleclick, the Internet advertising firm, citing the risks of growing consolidation of user data. In 2000, EPIC also opposed Doubleclick's acquisition of Abacus, a large catalog database firm. Privacy officials outside the US have begun to scrutinize these deals more closely.
  • Senators Challenge Verizon's Secret Mobile Tracking Program » (Jan. 30, 2015)
    In a letter to Verizon, Senators on the Commerce Committee challenged the company's practice of placing a "super cookie" oncustomers' smartphones. The letter follows the recent discovery that the advertising company Turn was secretly tracking Verizon customers, even after customers deleted its cookies. In the letter, the Senators asked Verizon to stop tracking users with undeletable cookies. EPIC has urged the White House and the Federal Trade Commission to limit the use of persistent identifiers. EPIC supports opt-in requirements and Privacy Enhancing Techniques for consumers, and algorithmic transparency for data collectors.
  • Obama Calls for Disclosure of Secret Credit Scores » (Jan. 12, 2015)
    In a speech at the Federal Trade Commission today, President Obama called for free access to credit scores. This will improve transparency for companies that profile consumers with "big data." Last year, the White House explored "Big Data and the Future of Privacy." EPIC called for "algorithmic transparency" and urged the White House to end secret profiling that limits opportunities for consumers, employees, students, and others.
  • FTC Chair Warns About Risks of Connected Devices » (Jan. 7, 2015)
    In a speech at the CES conference this week, FTC Chair Edith Ramirez warned of the privacy risks of connected home devices. "In the not-too-distant future, many, if not most, aspects of our everyday lives will be digitally observed and stored," Ramirez said. EPIC has written extensively on interconnected devices, known as the "Internet of Things." In comments to the FTC, EPIC described several risks, including the hidden collection of sensitive data. EPIC recommended that companies adopt Privacy Enhancing Techniques that minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Big Data.
  • Facebook Modifies User Privacy Policy » (Jan. 2, 2015)
    Facebook has modified its privacy and data use policies, effective January 1, 2015. Facebook will now allow advertisers to include a “buy” button directly on targeted advertisements on a user’s page. Facebook will also allow advertisers to use the location data gathered from tools like “Nearby Friends” and location "check-ins” to push geolocation-based targeted advertisements. For instance, a Facebook user who checks in near a restaurant that partners with Facebook may now be shown menu items from that restaurant. Last month, the Dutch data protection commission announced that it planned to open an investigation into Facebook’s policy modifications. In July 2014, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy groups urged the FTC to halt Facebook’s plan to collect web-browsing information from its users. Facebook is already under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy. The consent decree resulted from complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy; and EPIC: FTC.
  • FTC Charges Data Broker with Theft » (Jan. 2, 2015)
    The Federal Trade Commission has brought a complaint against LeapLab, a commercial data broker. According to the complaint, LeapLab bought the payday loan applications of “financially strapped consumers,” and then sold the consumer information to marketers. At least one marketing company that purchased consumer information from LeapLab used that information to steal millions of dollars from consumers’ bank accounts. “This case shows that the illegitimate use of sensitive financial information causes real harm to consumers,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. In 2005, EPIC testified before the the House Commerce Committee on "Identity Theft and Data Broker Services" and Urged Congress to establish comprehensive regulation of the data broker industry following the disclosure that Choicepoint was selling personal information to criminals engaged in identity theft. Further, EPIC's complaint to the FTC against Choicepoint lead to a $10 million settlement. For more information, see EPIC: Choicepoint, EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling, and EPIC: FTC.
  • FTC Finalizes Snapchat Settlement » (Jan. 2, 2015)
    The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order with Snapchat, the messaging service that falsely promised that messages sent and received through the service would "disappear forever.” The Commission’s investigation and initial proposed consent order followed a complaint filed by EPIC in 2013. EPIC brought the complaint against Snapchat after a researcher discovered that Snapchat photos could be retrieved by others after they should have vanished. EPIC also filed comments regarding the Commission's proposed consent order, expressing support for the Commission’s findings but recommending that Snapchat should be required to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and make Snapchat's privacy assessments publicly available. Under the settlement, Snapchat will be subject to 20 years of privacy audits, and will be prohibited from making false claims about its privacy policies. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
  • Dutch Privacy Officials Find Google Violates National Privacy Law » (Dec. 16, 2014)
    The Dutch Data Protection Authority has found that Google's 2012 privacy policy change violates Dutch data protection law. Google's policy change, which EPIC also opposed, consolidated user data across more than 60 separate services and gave Google the ability to track and profile users in extraordinary detail. The Dutch DPA has ordered Google to: (1) obtain "unambiguous consent of users for the combining of personal data" from different Google services; (2) describe in detail the personal data are used by each Google service; and (3) clearly explain to consumers that YouTube is a Google service. Google must comply with the Dutch officials' order by February 2015 or face $19 million in fines. In issuing the decision, Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Dutch DPA, stated, "Google catches us in an invisible web of our personal data without telling us and without asking us for our consent. This has been ongoing since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested." In 2012, EPIC sued the Federal Trade Commission to block Google's 2012 policy change, which violated a 2011 FTC Consent Order. That Consent Order followed an extensive EPIC FTC Complaint and findings by the FTC concerning Google's business practices. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Enforcement of the Google Consent Order), EPIC: In re Google Buzz, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook Revises Privacy Policy » (Dec. 5, 2014)
    Facebook has again revised its privacy policy. Despite the new graphics, Facebook continues to collect and disclose enormous amounts of user data without meaningful consent. The use of location data has expanded dramatically. "We collect information from or about the computers, phones, or other devices where you install or access our Services," states Facebook. These include "device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi signals." Facebook is currently under a 20 year consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission as a consequence of a complaint brought by EPIC and coalition of consumer privacy organizations when the company changed the privacy settings of users. More recently consumer organizations in the US and Europe have objected to Facebook's decision to track the web activities of users and to profile offline purchase. Privacy groups have also objected to Facebook's manipulation of user news feeds. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • FTC Fines TRUSTe, Privacy Certification Company » (Nov. 17, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission settled charges today that TRUSTe, a company that provides privacy certifications for online businesses including children's privacy and the US-EU Safe Harbor program, deceived consumers through its privacy seal program. The FTC charged TRUSTe with failure to conduct re-certifications for companies that displayed privacy seals, even though TRUSTe stated on its website that it conducted annual re-certifications. "TRUSTe promised to hold companies accountable for protecting consumer privacy, but it fell short of that pledge," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. Under the consent agreement, TRUSTe is prohibited from misrepresenting its business practices to consumers. TRUSTe must also submit a detailed filing to the FTC every year, describing its COPPA recertification process and must pay a fine of $200K. In February, EPIC submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency to improve pending settlements in several Safe Harbor enforcement actions, citing weaknesses in current Safe Harbor oversight. And just this month, EPIC filed a lengthy amicus brief in federal appeals court in support of the FTC's "Section 5" authority. For more information, see EPIC: FTC.
  • Post-Snowden, Social Media Users Concerned About Access to Personal Data » (Nov. 13, 2014)
    According to the Pew Research Report "Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era," most users of social media are very concerned about businesses and government accessing their personal data. 80% of adults "agree" or "strongly agree" that Americans should be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and internet communications. 64% believe there should be more regulation of advertisers. Almost all users rank their social security number as the most sensitive piece of personal data. EPIC has asked the House Committee on Homeland Security to suspend a DHS program that is monitoring social networks and media organizations. EPIC has recommended that the FTC to establish privacy protections for online advertising. EPIC has also urged the US Congress over many years to limit the use of the Social Security Number for commercial purposes. For more information, see EPIC: Public Opinion on Privacy, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Social Media Monitoring, and EPIC: Social Security Numbers.
  • Senator Rockefeller Questions Whisper About Privacy Practices » (Oct. 24, 2014)
    Senator Rockefeller has asked Whisper to answer several questions about the company's practices and policies. Whisper said that it does not track users and that it respects users' decisions to opt out of geolocational tracking. But the Guardian revealed that Whisper tracks "the precise time and approximate location of all messages" and specifically tracks certain users the company deems "newsworthy." Senator Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce has asked Whisper to explain its tracking, data retention, and disclosure practices. EPIC has several similar matters pending before the Federal Trade Commission. For more information, see EPIC: WhatsApp, EPIC: Snapchat, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Facebook Responds to EPIC Complaint About "Emotions Study" » (Oct. 2, 2014)
    Facebook has announced revised guidelines concerning user data the company discloses to researchers. In 2012, Facebook subjected 700,000 users to an "emotional" test by manipulating their News Feeds. Facebook did not get users' permission to conduct this study or notify users that their data would be disclosed to researchers. In response, EPIC filed a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. "The company purposefully messed with people's minds," states the EPIC complaint. EPIC has also asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm. Facebook is also currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy, as a result of complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. The new guidelines have improved Facebook's research process, but they still raise questions about human subject testing by advertising companies. EPIC still believes the NewsFeed algorithm should be made public. For more information, see EPIC: In re: Facebook (Psychological Study) and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC To Explore "Big Data" and Discrimination » (Sep. 10, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop entitled "Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?" The FTC will explore the effects of "big data" analytics on low-income and other underserved communities. Several members of the EPIC Advisory Board will be participating. Earlier this year, the FTC published a report on data brokers, warning that, "collecting and storing large amounts of data not only increases the risk of a data breach or other unauthorized access but also increases the potential harm that could be caused." The White House also convened a task force and published a report on "big data" this year. At EPIC's urging, the White House included public participation in the review process. EPIC submitted extensive comments, warning about the enormous risk to Americans of current "big data" practices but also made clear that problems are not new, citing the Privacy Act of 1974. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Federal Trade Commission Orders Google to Refund Parents $19 Million for Unauthorized Charges » (Sep. 5, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Google over allegations that the company unfairly charged parents millions of dollars for their children's in-app purchases. The settlement mandates that Google provides full refunds for unauthorized purchases. The FTC agreement will be subject to public comments. Comments are due October 6, 2014. The Commission has previously settled charges with Apple and sued Amazon for charging parents for their kids unauthorized in-app purchases. Previously EPIC has urged the FTC to require companies subject to privacy consent orders to adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
  • EU Launches Investigation Into Facebook Acquisition of WhatsApp » (Sep. 2, 2014)
    Antitrust officials in the European Union have begun an investigation into Facebook's acquisition of the messaging service WhatsApp. WhatsApp gained popularity based on its pro-privacy approach to user data. Following the announcement of Facebook's plan to acquire the company, EPIC filed two complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, urging the FTC to block the sale unless adequate privacy safeguards for WhatsApp users were established. The Commission then notified Facebook and WhatsApp that they must honor their privacy commitments to users but questions remain about future business practices. Now European antitrust regulators have served Facebook with a questionnaire of more than 70 pages to determine whether the merger violates European antitrust laws. For more information, see EPIC: In re WhatsApp, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Consumer Privacy Organizations Urge Judge to Reject "Privacy Settlement" » (Aug. 27, 2014)
    EPIC, joined by leading consumer protection organizations, has asked a federal judge to reject a proposed class action settlement in In re Google Referrer Header Litigation. The settlement requires no substantial change in Google's business practices and provides no benefit to class members. EPIC wrote to the same judge last year when the settlement was first proposed, urging him not to approve. The Federal Trade Commission and the California Attorney General have opposed a similar settlement. And the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court has expressed deep skepticism about settlements that provide no benefits to class members. The judge in the Google care will rule on the settlement August 29. For more information, see EPIC: Search Engine Privacy, and EPIC: FTC.
  • European Facebook Users Privacy Lawsuit Moves Forward » (Aug. 26, 2014)
    A group of over 25,000 European Facebook users may proceed with their lawsuit against Facebook. The users, led by privacy activist Max Schrems, sued Facebook in a court in Vienna. The users charge Facebook with violating EU privacy law by improperly handling users' data. Now that the court has approved the class action suit, Facebook must respond to the complaints. In 2011, Schrems brought a similar lawsuit against Facebook in an Irish court. In the same year, Facebook signed a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission, following a complaint filed by EPIC and a group of American consumer privacy organizations. EPIC has also filed an amicus brief in a federal class action lawsuit, opposing Facebook's use of children's images for advertising purposes. In 2013, EPIC gave the International Privacy Champion Award to Max Schrems, calling him "an innovative and effective spokesperson for the right to privacy." For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • Senator Schumer Calls On Regulators to Make Fitness Data Private » (Aug. 14, 2014)
    Senator Charles Schumer has denounced the data collection practices of "activity trackers" such as FitBit. "Activity trackers" are mobile devices that record highly personal information about the wearer and constantly analyze the wearer's activities, including their diet, exercise, sleep, and even sexual habits. However, it is not clear whether federal privacy law protects this personal data from disclosure to third parties. EPIC has commented extensively on the privacy protections that are necessary in the "internet of things." EPIC has frequently pointed out the potential for misuse when companies collect data about sensitive consumer behavior. EPIC has made several recommendations to improve the privacy protections on devices such as "activity trackers," including requiring companies to adopt Privacy Enhancing Techniques, respect a consumer’s choice not to tracked, profiled, or monitored, minimize data collection, and ensure transparency in both design and operation of Internet-connected devices. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Practical Privacy Tools.
  • Federal Trade Commission Responds to EPIC Regarding Google Settlement » (Aug. 7, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has responded to EPIC's letter urging the agency to oppose a collusive Google class action settlement. The agency stated that it "systematically monitors compliance" with its consumer protection orders and that it "takes alleged violation[s] of an order seriously," but that it cannot publicly disclose details of its investigations until a formal complaint is issued. In 2010, Google was sued for sharing user web browsing information with advertisers. Under the proposed settlement agreement, Google will distribute several million dollars to a handful of organizations, many of which already have ties to the company. EPIC and other privacy organizations urged the Commission to formally object because the proposed agreement "confers no monetary relief to class members, compels no change in Google's behavior, and misallocates the cy pres distribution." The agency has a history of filing objections - it filed a similar objection in Fraley v. Facebook, an unfair class action settlement in the Ninth Circuit. For more information see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
  • Consumer Privacy Organizations Oppose Farcical Class Action Settlement » (Aug. 5, 2014)
    EPIC, along with a group of consumer privacy organizations, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to object to an unfair class action settlement in California federal court. In 2010, Google was sued for sharing user web browsing information with advertisers. Under the proposed settlement agreement, Google will distribute several million dollars to a handful of organizations, many of which already have ties to the company. EPIC and other privacy organizations have argued that the proposed agreement "confers no monetary relief to class members, compels no change in Google's behavior, and misallocates the cy pres distribution" to organizations that are "not aligned with the interests of class members and do not further the purpose of the litigation." The consumer groups, who have already written to the court opposing the settlement, urged the Federal Trade Commission to object as well. The agency filed a similar objection in Fraley v. Facebook, an unfair class action settlement in the Ninth Circuit. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
  • EPIC, Consumer Groups Challenge Facebook on Web Snooping » (Jul. 29, 2014)
    EPIC, along with a coalition of consumer groups, has urged the Federal Trade Commission to block Facebook's plan to collect users' web browsing history. Facebook recently announced plans to collect user data from sites all over the web. But the practice may violate a Federal Trade Commission order prohibiting Facebook from changing its business practices without users' express consent. The groups asked the FTC "to act immediately to notify the company that it must suspend its proposed change in business practices to determine whether it complies with current U.S. and EU law." EPIC has also filed a FOIA request, seeking the FTC's communications with Facebook about this change. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Privacy, and EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC Tells Congress FTC Does Not Enforce Consent Orders » (Jul. 25, 2014)
    EPIC has sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Regulation stating that the Federal Trade Commission rarely enforces "Section 5" consent orders. EPIC also said that the Commission has never modified a consent order in response to public comments or required companies to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Committee believed the Commission has gone too far to protect the privacy of American consumers. EPIC wrote "the opposite is true." Senator Rockefeller also wrote a letter, urging the Committee not to interfere in the FTC's "well-established legal authority." For more information, see EPIC: Wyndham Hotels and EPIC: FTC.
  • Privacy Lawsuit Against Google for Policy Change Moves Forward » (Jul. 22, 2014)
    A federal court in California has ruled that a class action privacy lawsuit against Google can continue. The plaintiffs are Android users who sued Google in 2012 after the company consolidated user data across many separate services, including Gmail, Google+, and Youtube. They allege that Google concealed a plan to modify its privacy policies and also that Google violated the privacy policy for GooglePlay. After dismissing similar claims, the court held that the case may now go forward. In 2012, EPIC objected to the same change in Google's policy and urged the Federal Trade Commission to block the change because of a 2011 consent order in which Google agreed not to combine user data without user consent. After the FTC failed to act, EPIC sued the agency. Members of Congress, state Attorneys General, European Justice Officials, technical experts, and IT managers in government and the private sector also expressed concern about the 2012 Google policy change. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order) and EPIC: FTC.
  • Following EPIC Complaint, Senator Seeks Investigation of Facebook User Manipulation Study » (Jul. 17, 2014)
    Senator Mark Warner has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the legality of Facebook's emotional manipulation study. In a letter to the Commission, Senator Warner stated that "it is not clear whether Facebook users were adequately informed and given an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out." He asked the FTC to conduct an investigation to see "if this 2012 experiment violated Section 5 of the FTC Act or the 2011 consent agreement with Facebook," two issues raised in EPIC's earlier complaint. "The company purposefully messed with people's minds," wrote EPIC in a complaint to the Commission. EPIC charged that Facebook violated a consent decree that required the company to respect user privacy and also engaged in a deceptive trade practice. EPIC has asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook (Psychological Study), and EPIC: FTC.
  • FTC Sues Amazon Over Billing for Childrens' In-App Purchases » (Jul. 11, 2014)
    The FTC has filed a lawsuit alleging that "Amazon.com, Inc. has billed parents and other account holders for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children." FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said, "Amazon's in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents' accounts without permission. Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created." The FTC recently settled similar charges with Apple. In that case, the FTC charged Apple with "billing consumers for millions of dollars of charges incurred by children in kids' mobile apps without their parents' consent." Under the terms of the settlement, Apple must provide a refund for affected consumers and must change its billing practices to ensure that it has obtained express, informed consent from consumers before charging them for items sold in mobile apps. Previously, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over Amazon's collection of children's data. EPIC explained that Amazon was violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by allowing children to post content, including personally identifiable information, without their parents' permission. EPIC currently has several complaints pending with the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC Challenges Facebook's Manipulation of Users, Files FTC Complaint » (Jul. 3, 2014)
    EPIC has filed a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's manipulation of users' News Feeds for psychological research. "The company purposefully messed with people's minds," states the EPIC complaint. EPIC has charged that the study violates a privacy consent order and is a deceptive trade practice. In 2012, Facebook subjected 700,000 users to an "emotional" test with the manipulation of News Feeds. Facebook did not get users' permission to conduct this study or notify users that their data would be disclosed to researchers. In the complaint, EPIC explained that Facebook's misuse of data is a deceptive practice subject to FTC enforcement. Facebook is also currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy. The consent decree resulted from complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. EPIC has asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook (Psychological Study), and EPIC: FTC.
  • FTC Releases 2014 Data Security Update, But Enforcement Questions Remain » (Jul. 1, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has released the 2014 Privacy and Data Security Update. The report is "an overview of the FTC's enforcement, policy initiatives, and consumer outreach and business guidance in the areas of privacy and data security." In the report, the FTC explains that "If a company violates an FTC order, the FTC can seek civil monetary penalties for the violations." However, the FTC has consistently failed to enforce consent orders with Google, Facebook, and other companies that have engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices. The Commission has also failed to modify proposed settlement agreements after seeking public comment. For more information, see EPIC: FTC, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: In re: Google Buzz.
  • FTC Ignores Public Comments on Safe Harbor Settlements » (Jun. 27, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has settled charges against fourteen companies that misrepresented compliance with the EU-US Safe Harbor privacy arrangement. In response to the FTC's request for public comment on the pending settlements, EPIC recommended that the Commission: (1) require the companies to comply with the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; (2) publish the companies' consent order compliance reports as they are submitted; and (3) strengthen the sanctions against a DNA testing firm, whose misrepresentations puts genetic information at risk. However, the FTC declined to make any changes. EPIC has previously stated that the Commission's ongoing failure to modify consent orders in response to public comments is "contrary to the interests of American consumers." An Irish Court has recently asked the European Court of Justice to determine whether the Safe Harbor Arrangement still provides adequate protection for EU consumer. For more information, see EPIC: EU Data Protection Directive and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook to Profile User Browsing, May Violate FTC Consent Order » (Jun. 12, 2014)
    Facebook has announced that it will collect detailed browser history on users for advertising purposes. Users who object were told to opt-out. The plan may violate a Federal Trade Commission order, prohibiting Facebook from changing its business practices without users’ express consent. The FTC order follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In issuing the order, the FTC found that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." A recent Consumer Reports poll found that consumers overwhelmingly object to having their online activities tracked for advertising purposes. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement, EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling, and EPIC: Practical Privacy Tools.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Snapchat Users' Privacy » (Jun. 10, 2014)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency to require Snapchat to safeguard consumer privacy. Following a 2013 EPIC complaint, the FTC signed a consent order with Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages users to share intimate photos and videos. Snapchat claimed that pictures and videos would "disappear forever," but that was false. As EPIC explained, "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted." EPIC expressed support for the findings in the proposed FTC Settlement with Snapchat. But EPIC recommended that the FTC require Snapchat to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and make Snapchat's independent privacy assessments publicly available. EPIC pursued similar claims involving false promises about data deletion with AskEraser. EPIC has also made similar recommendation for other proposed FTC consumer privacy settlements. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Federal Trade Commission Urges Court to Protect Student Privacy » (May. 29, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission is opposing the sale of student data in a bankruptcy proceeding for ConnectEDU. The company privacy policy promises it will give students "reasonable notice and an opportunity to remove personally identifiable information" from its website. The FTC said that the sale of student information "without reasonable notice to users and an opportunity to remove personal information would contradict the privacy statements originally made to users." The FTC letter also cites consent agreements with Snapchat, Google, and Facebook. Each of these consent orders was a result of an EPIC FTC complaint. Last year, EPIC filed an extensive complaint concerning Scholarships.com's business practices. The company encourages students to divulge sensitive medical, sexual, and religious information to obtain financial aid information. For more information, see EPIC: Student Privacy, EPIC: In re Google Buzz, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Report on Data Brokers Fails to Address Consumer Privacy Concerns » (May. 27, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has published "Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability." The report follows from a FTC Investigation of the data broker industry. The report describes the unbounded collection of personal information about American consumers that is then widely sold in the private sector. The Commission recommended modest legislative changes and failed to address many of consumers' privacy concerns, including profiling and "scoring" of consumers. Commissioner Julie Brill issued a statement, calling for more substantial consumers safeguards. Senators Rockefeller and Markey have also introduced The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), which would regulate data brokers and other companies that profit from the sale of consumer information. In 2005, EPIC testified before the the House Commerce Committee on "Identity Theft and Data Broker Services" and Urged Congress to establish comprehensive regulation of the data broker industry following the disclosure that Choicepoint was selling personal information to criminals engaged in identity theft. For more information, see EPIC: Choicepoint, EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Sprint Pays FCC A Record $7.5M For Violating Do Not Call » (May. 20, 2014)
    Sprint has reached a $7.5 million settlement with the Federal Communications Commission for violations of the Do Not Call national registry. It is the FCC's largest Do Not Call settlement ever. The settlement follows a 2011 consent decree between Sprint and the FCC which also arose out of complaints from Do Not Call registrants. Under the terms of the current settlement, Sprint must develop a compliance plan, and file two years of compliance reports with the Commission. Additionally, Sprint must designate a Do Not Call Compliance Officer and retrain all employees. EPIC has spent 20 years helping to establish and enforce the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. In 2002, EPIC and ten leading advocacy groups filed comments to both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, advocating the creation of the Do-Not-Call Registry. EPIC has also recommended that Congress establish a National Do Not Track registry for online consumers. For more information, see EPIC: Do Not Call Registry Timeline, EPIC: Illegal Sale of Phone Records, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Privacy Case Moves Forward Against Facebook and Zynga » (May. 9, 2014)
    The Ninth Circuit found that the companies may have violated Facebook's privacy policies when they disclosed user information for advertising purposes. Separately, the court ruled that there was no violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act because the data disclosed (including Facebook IDs and HTTP referers) is not "contents" of a communication. Congress is set to consider several ECPA reforms, and could fix the court's ruling by making clear that the law prevents the disclosure of personally identifiable information. For more information, see EPIC: Electronic Communications Privacy Act and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC's Snapchat Privacy Complaint Results in 20-Year FTC Consent Order » (May. 8, 2014)
    Following a 2013 EPIC complaint, the FTC has signed a consent order with Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages user to share intimate photos and videos. Snapchat claimed that pictures and videos would "disappear forever." However, the images could be retrieved by others. As EPIC wrote in the complaint "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted." In announcing the settlement, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said, "If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises. Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action." Under the settlement, Snapchat will be subject to 20 years of privacy audits, and will be prohibited from making false claims about its privacy policies. EPIC pursued similar claims involve false promises about data deletion with AskEraser. The FTC will be accepting Public Comments on the proposed Snapchat consent order. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
  • Facebook Introduces New Privacy Features » (May. 1, 2014)
    Amidst growing concern about Facebook's disclosure of user information to third parties, the company has announced two new privacy options. Users may now decide how much of their information to disclose to Facebook apps before signing up. Users may also test apps anonymously - without transmitting the Facebook User ID to the developer. The changes appear to be a response to the 2011 Consent Order, pursued by EPIC and a coalition of privacy organization, that requires the company to obtain express affirmative consent from users before disclosing personal information to third parties. In the first report on Internet privacy, "Surfer Beware: Personal Privacy and the Internet" (1997), EPIC said web sites should "support anonymity while developing policies and practices to protect information privacy." For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Internet Anonymity, and EPIC: FTC.
  • Patent to Block Facial Recognition Follows Sale of Google Glass » (Apr. 25, 2014)
    A patent for a technology that shields users from nearby video cameras has emerged. The patent describes a detector that would blur the images of people on portable camera displays, preventing video surveillance. The patent surfaced following Google's release of Google Glass for sale by the general public. Google is seeking a patent for a contact lens style for Glass that would escape public detection. Google is also seeking to trademark the word "glass," which the US Patent and Trademark Office opposes. EPIC previously submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission recommending the suspension of facial recognition techniques pending the establishment of privacy safeguards. For more information, see EPIC: Google Glass and Privacy, EPIC: Facial Recognition and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Report Reveals Rise in Teens' Desire for Online Privacy » (Apr. 25, 2014)
    A report released by the Intelligence Group, a "youth-focused, research-based consumer insights company," reveals that teens want more online privacy than ever before. According to the report, only 11% of teens currently share "a lot about themselves online" - a 7% decrease from the same age group last year. By contrast, 17% of young adults aged 19- to 24 and 27% of adults aged 25 to 34 currently share "a lot about themselves online." The report also indicates that "about 18% of teens share content on social media at least once a day, including status updates, photos, pins, or articles, compared with 28% of 19- to 24-year-olds and 35% of 25- to 34-year-olds." Recently, EPIC objected to a settlement agreement that would allow Facebook to use images of teens in online advertising. EPIC has also filed comments with the FTC supporting stronger regulations to protect children's data online. For more information, see EPIC: Fraley v. Facebook, EPIC: COPPA and EPIC: FTC.
  • Court Upholds FTC Authority to Safeguard Data Privacy » (Apr. 11, 2014)
    A federal judge has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the power to enforce data security standards. In the case FTC v. Wyndham, the Commission alleged that criminals stole hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers from hotel guests because Wyndham Hotels maintained lax data security. Wyndham responded that the FTC could not bring an enforcement action against the company without first publishing regulations. Judge Esther Salas held that the FTC's authority to investigate "unfair or deceptive" business practices included data protection. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stated earlier, "Companies should take reasonable steps to secure sensitive consumer information. When they do not, it is not only appropriate, but critical, that the FTC take action on behalf of consumers." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy.
  • FTC Responds to EPIC Complaint on WhatsApp and Privacy » (Apr. 10, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has notified Facebook and WhatsApp that they must honor their privacy commitments to users. According to the letter from the Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, "if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act and potentially the FTC's order against Facebook." The FTC letter followed a detailed complaint from EPIC and CDD concerning the privacy implications of the $19B sale to Facebook. WhatsApp had assured users of strong privacy safeguards prior to the sale. The FTC letter concludes "hundreds of millions of users have entrusted their personal information to WhatsApp. The FTC staff continue to monitor the companies' practices to ensure that Facebook and WhatsApp honor the promises they have made to those users." For more information, see EPIC: In re: WhatsApp, EPIC: In re: Facebook and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Commissioner Wright Meets with Industry Lobbyists, Not Consumer Representatives » (Apr. 8, 2014)
    Through a Freedom of Information Act request, EPIC obtained the appointment calendar of FTC Commissioner Wright. The Commissioner's calendar reveals many meetings with corporate presentatives but no meetings with public interest organizations representing consumers. One of FTC's primary missions is to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. Commissioner Wright became an FTC Commissioner in January 2013. Since then he has met with representatives from Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, Qualcomm, the Network Advertising Initiative, and the Consumer Data Industry Association. He has attended industry conferences and given talks at trade association meetings. EPIC tried several times to arrange a meeting between Commissioner Wright and the Privacy Coalition—a nonpartisan coalition of consumer, civil liberties, educational, family, library, and technology organizations. The Privacy Coalition has hosted meetings with many FTC commissioners over the past decade. After repeatedly declining a meeting with the consumer privacy organizations, EPIC filed a FOIA request for the FTC Commissioner's appointment calendar. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Fandago and Credit Karma Settle FTC Charges for Weak App Security » (Mar. 28, 2014)
    Two companies have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they misrepresented the security of their mobile apps. Fandango and Credit Karma failed to enable SSL encryption, leaving user data vulnerable on mobile apps. "Our cases against Fandango and Credit Karma should remind app developers of the need to make data security central to how they design their apps," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. The settlements require the companies to establish data security programs, and to undergo security assessments by the Commission for the next 20 years. EPIC recently brought a complaint to the FTC concerning Scholarship.com, a company that failed to establish adequate security safeguards. Not long after the complaint from EPIC, the company implemented SSL. EPIC had earlier recommended that the Commission require encryption for all cloud-based services. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: EPIC Online Guide to Practical Privacy Tools.
  • Federal Trade Commission Backs Users in Facebook Privacy Case » (Mar. 21, 2014)
    The FTC has filed an amicus brief in a case before a federal appeals court concerning Facebook users. If a controversial settlement is approved, Facebook will display the images of users, including young children, in Facebook advertising without consent. Several Facebook users formally objected to the plan, arguing that it would violate state laws. A children's advocacy organization also objected, stating that the "settlement is actually worse than no settlement." The FTC brief explains that state privacy laws do prevent the display of children's images without consent. EPIC also filed an amicus brief in support of the users, explaining that the settlement is unfair and should be rejected. EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations filed an extensive complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that eventually required Facebook to improve its privacy practices. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook and EPIC: Fraley v. Facebook.
  • FTC Adopts EPIC's Recommendations on Improved FOIA Processing » (Mar. 21, 2014)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued a final rule updating its Freedom of Information Act fee provisions. EPIC submitted extensive comments to the agency, supporting proposed fee reductions but also recommending changes to strengthen open government. The FTC adopted nearly all of EPIC's proposals. The FTC announced that all "Commission decisions, orders, and other public materials" will be electronically available to all requesters without charge. The FTC also said it would grant requesters additional time to assess fees associated with FOIA requests rather than simply terminate processing. The FTC agreed to be more lenient in resolving unpaid FOIA fees. The Commission also adopted EPIC's recommendation to disclose private sector contract rates for FOIA processing. EPIC routinely comments on agency proposals that impact FOIA requesters' rights. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Updates Facebook Complaint, Urges Careful Review of WhatsApp Acquisition » (Mar. 21, 2014)
    EPIC has filed a supplemental complaint regarding Facebook's $19 b purchase of WhatsApp. WhatsApp users had relied on the messing app's pro-privacy practices to protect their personal information, while Facebook regularly incorporates user data from the companies it acquires. In the initial complaint, EPIC urged the Federal Trade Commission to block the sale unless adequate privacy safeguard for WhatsApp user data were established. In the supplemental complaint, EPIC provided more evidence that WhatsApp users object to the acquisition. EPIC also highlighted the importance of the FTC's pre-merger review process. Recently, the Commission approved Google's purchase of Nest Labs without considering the privacy implications for consumers. For more information, see EPIC: In re WhatsApp and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • WhatsApp Founder Responds to EPIC Privacy Complaint » (Mar. 18, 2014)
    Following Facebook's announced plan to purchase WhatsApp, a popular pro-privacy messaging services, EPIC urged the FTC to block the acquisition. EPIC explained to the Commission that Facebook incorporates user data from companies it acquires, and that WhatsApp users objected to the acquisition. WhatsApp founder Jan Koum has now published a blog post in response to the EPIC Complaint. Koum wrote, "Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal." He added, "Make no mistake: our future partnership with Facebook will not compromise the vision that brought us to this point." For more information, see EPIC: In re WhatsApp, EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Strengthen Safe Harbor Settlements » (Feb. 21, 2014)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency to improve pending settlements in several Safe Harbor enforcement actions. According to the FTC, twelve companies misrepresented compliance with the EU-US privacy arrangement. EPIC recommended that the Commission revise the proposed orders to: (1) require the companies to comply with the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; (2) publish the companies' consent order compliance reports as they are submitted; and (3) strengthen the sanctions against a DNA testing firm, whose misrepresentations puts genetic information at risk. EPIC also noted that the Commission's ongoing failure to modify consent orders in response to public comments is "contrary to the interests of American consumers." For more information, see EPIC: EU Data Protection Directive and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Senators Rockefeller and Markey Propose Data Broker Legislation » (Feb. 13, 2014)
    Senators Rockefeller and Markey have introduced the The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). The proposed Act imposes transparency and accountability requirements on data brokers and other companies that profit from the collection and sale of consumer information. Under the DATA Act, consumers would be able to access their personal information, make corrections, and opt out of marketing schemes. The DATA Act would empower the FTC to impose civil penalties on violators, and would prohibit data brokers from collecting consumer data in deceptive ways. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. In 2005, EPIC's complaint to the FTC against data broker Choicepoint lead to a $10 million settlement. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, EPIC: Choicepoint and EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling.
  • FTC Chair Ramirez Urges Senate to Act on Data Security Legislation » (Feb. 5, 2014)
    The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Privacy in the Digital Age: Preventing Data Breaches and Combating Cybercrime" followed a series of major data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, and Michaels, which compromised the personal data of tens of millions of consumers. Senator Leahy, who has introduced important data privacy legislation, said "In the digital age, Americans face threats to their privacy and security unlike any time before in our Nation's history." FTC Chair Edith Ramirez expressed strong support for federal data security legislation. (2h18m). In 2012 President Obama set out a framework for consumer privacy protection, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which is supported by consumer privacy organizations. For more information, see EPIC: Privacy Legislation, EPIC: Identity Theft, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • French Data Protection Authority Fines Google for Data Consolidation » (Jan. 9, 2014)
    The CNIL, the French data protection authority, has fined Google 150,000 Euro (approximately $200,000) for consolidating user data. The decision follows an investigation triggered by the collapse of the Google privacy policy in March 2012, which allowed the company to combine user data across 60 Internet services to create detailed profiles on Internet users. In 2012, EPIC sued the Federal Trade Commission to force the FTC to enforce the terms of a settlement with Google that would have prohibited Google's changes in business practices. Google's consolidation also prompted objections from state attorneys general, members of Congress, and IT managers in the government and private sectors. For more information, see EPIC: Google Buzz and EPIC: Enforcement of Google Consent Order.
  • Snapchat Data Breach Exposes 4.6 Million Usernames » (Jan. 2, 2014)
    A data breach has exposed the usernames and partial phone numbers of 4.6 million users of Snapchat, a popular photo- and video-sharing app. The breach was accomplished by exploiting a flaw that was previously brought to company's attention by security researchers. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Snapchat's deceptive claim that photos would "disappear forever" after a set period of time. The Federal Trade Commission has thus far failed to take action on the EPIC complaint. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Senate Report Shines Light on How Data Brokers Operate » (Dec. 18, 2013)
    A Senate Committee Majority Staff report released today highlights the oft-concealed practices of Data Brokers. The report finds that data brokers lack transparency and collect sensitive personal information, while individuals lack basic rights to know what data is collected or how it is used. The brokers, the report notes, prevent business customers from revealing how data is obtained. The report also exposed how personal information is often used to target the financially vulnerable. Thus far, the data broker industry has largely escaped federal regulation. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. In 2005, EPIC's complaint to the FTC against data broker Choicepoint lead to a $10 million settlement. For more information, see EPIC: ChoicePoint and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Lights Out for Flashlight App Developer in Privacy Case » (Dec. 5, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with the developer of a flashlight app for Android mobile devices that deceptively collected and then disclosed consumers' personal information to third parties. "Brightest Flashlight Free" secretly collected location information and unique identifiers from users and then provided that information to third parties, including advertising networks. The developer even even included a dummy privacy setting that had no actual effect. The settlement prohibits the company from misrepresentations and requires it to obtain the affirmative express consent of consumers before using and disclosing personal information. Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the flashlight app left users "in the dark about how their information was going to be used." EPIC has previously commented on mobile privacy issues before the FTC, emphasizing the importance of the Fair Information Practices. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Announces 2014 Privacy Workshops » (Dec. 2, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission has announced a series of workshops on emerging consumer privacy issues. The series will "shine a light on new trends in Big Data and their impact on consumer privacy" and includes three topics: the use of mobile devices to track users in real space; predictive scoring algorithms that determine access to products and offers; and consumer-generated health data that falls outside HIPAA. The FTC has invited comments from the public on the proposed topics for the spring workshops. The FTC recently concluded a workshop on the Internet of Things, for which EPIC submitted comments. EPIC has also urged the Commission to enforce its prior consent orders, to incorporate the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in privacy settlements, and to respect public comments on proposed settlements. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Files FOIA Request with FTC About Facebook Investigation » (Nov. 19, 2013)
    EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Trade Commission for documents concerning the FTC's recent "investigation" of Facebook's policy changes. The investigation concerned changes to Facebook’s Data Use Policy that permit the use of the names, images, and content of Facebook users for commercial endorsement without user consent. Following announcement of the proposed change, EPIC and several several privacy groups wrote to the FTC objecting to the changes as a violation of a 2011 consent order with Federal Trade Commission. Senator Markey also expressed concern about the policy changes. The Commission opened an investigation which was then quietly closed allowing Facebook to go forward with the changes. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: FOIA.
  • Google Announces Plan to Post Names and Photos of Users for Advertising Without Consent, May Violate 2011 FTC Consent Order » (Oct. 11, 2013)
    Google announced changes to its Terms of Service that will allow “your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications” to be used in advertisements. The changes will not require Google to seek the affirmative consent of users before putting their personal information to commercial use. Minors, however, will not be subject to the changes. A 2011 Consent Order with the Federal Trade Commission prohibits Google from making misrepresentations and requires the company to obtain user consent before disclosing information to third parties. EPIC recently objected to similar practices by Facebook that would allow the company to routinely use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: In re Google.
  • Facebook Removes Crucial Privacy Setting for Users’ Names » (Oct. 11, 2013)
    Facebook has begun removing a privacy setting that allowed users to opt-out from their name being included in its “Graph Search” feature. All users, even those who had previously decided to remove their name from searches, will now be included in Graph Search results. Facebook is currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires express affirmative consent from users before disclosing personal information which exceeds the restrictions imposed by users' privacy settings. Facebook announced the change last year, at which point EPIC warned about the consequences of Facebook removing privacy settings for its users. In 2012, EPIC sent a letter to Facebook requesting a reversal of policy changes that automatically shared users’ private information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • Consumer Privacy Groups Ask Congress to End Secret Hearings on Data Industry » (Oct. 2, 2013)
    EPIC, joined by a coalition of consumer privacy groups, has asked the House of Representatives Privacy Task Force to open to the public meetings that are now taking place in secret in the hearing rooms of Congress. "We recognize that there is value in private meetings among Members and staff and with constituents," the group wrote, but said that "with public matters of common concern" meetings should be held "in the open, a public record should be created, and various viewpoints should be heard." The groups thanked Representatives Blackburn and Welch for examining "the enormously important issue of consumer privacy" but said “there is simply no reason for your task force to hold closed-door sessions." Last year, both the White House and the Federal Trade Commission recommended enactment of consumer privacy legislation.
  • Pressure Mounts on Facebook to Withdraw Proposed Changes, New Scrutiny of "Faceprints" » (Sep. 13, 2013)
    Facebook is under increasing pressure to withdraw proposed changes that would allow the company to use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for advertising without consent. After EPIC and several privacy groups wrote to the Federal Trade Commission that the changes would violate a 2011 Consent Order, the Commission has opened an investigation. Senator Ed Markey also wrote to the FTC, stating that Facebook's changes "raise[] a number of questions about whether Facebook is improperly altering its privacy policy without proper user consent and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which Facebook users will lose control over their personal information." Senator Al Franken has called on Facebook to reconsider expansion of its facial recognition activity. In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Senator Franken asked "How many face prints does Facebook have?" For more information, see EPIC: EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC, Privacy Groups, Urge FTC to Block Facebook Policy Changes » (Sep. 5, 2013)
    EPIC, joined by several leading privacy and consumer protection organizations, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the terms of a 2011 settlement with Facebook. Facebook recently announced changes that would allow the company to routinely use the names, images, and content of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent. The changes arise from a flawed class action settlement over Facebook’s Sponsored Stories program. In the letter, the privacy groups explain that Facebook’s changes violate the terms of a 2011 settlement with the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC Asks FTC To Investigate "Magna Carta" App » (Jul. 14, 2013)
    EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Samsung, the publisher of a mobile app for Jay-Z's new album "Magna Carta Holy Grail." The Magna Carta App collects massive amounts of personal information from users, including location data and data pulled from other accounts and other apps on the users phones. The Magna Carta app also includes hidden spam techniques that force users to promote the album. Well known music critic John Pareles wrote "Jay-Z Is Watching, and He Knows Your Friends." EPIC asked the Commission to require Samsung to suspend the distribution of the app until the privacy problems are fixed and to implement the privacy protections contained in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Previously, EPIC filed an FTC complaint against Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that falsely claimed to delete photos and videos "forever." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Samsung "JAY-Z Magna Carta" App.
  • EU Officials Recommend Do Not Track by Default » (Jun. 28, 2013)
    The International Working Group on Data Protection released a white paper on online behavioral advertising. The group of leading privacy experts from around the world noted that web tracking allows companies to "monitor every single aspect of the behavior of an identified user across websites." The Working Group also observed that the current efforts of the W3C to develop a DNT track standard could "remain a sugar pill instead of being a proper cure and would such be useless." The Working Group recommended "the default setting should be such that the user is not tracked" and that there be no invisible tracking of users. Senator Rockefeller, the Commerce Committee Chairman, has introduced legislation to regulate the commercial surveillance of consumers online. For more information, see EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Advertising and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Google Bans Facial Recognition Glass Apps » (Jun. 3, 2013)
    Google announced that it will not approve any facial recognition apps for Google Glass, pending the development of privacy safeguards. "[W]e won't add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place," the company said in a blog post. In comments on facial recognition to the Federal Trade Commission last year, EPIC recommended that the Federal Trade Commission enforce Fair Information Practices against commercial actors when collecting, using, or storing facial recognition data. "In the absence of guidelines and legal standards, EPIC recommends a moratorium on the commercial deployment of facial recognition techniques," EPIC wrote to the FTC in early 2012. For more information, see EPIC: Facial Recognition and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Submits Comments on the "Internet of Things" » (Jun. 3, 2013)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission in advance of a workshop on the Internet of Things. The "Internet of Things" refers to the growing capacity of devices to communicate via the Internet. EPIC’s comments listed several privacy and security risks posed by the Internet of Things, such as the collection of data about sensitive behavior patterns and an increase in the power imbalance between consumers and service providers. EPIC then made several recommendations, such as requiring companies to adopt Privacy Enhancing Techniques, respect a consumer’s choice not to tracked, profiled, or monitored, minimize data collection, and ensure transparency in both design and operation of Internet-connected devices. For more information see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Opens Investigation into Google Advertising Dominance » (May. 29, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission has reportedly opened a new antitrust investigation into Google’s display advertising business. The Commission is investigating whether Google used its dominant position in the display advertising market, following the acquisition of Doubleclick, to harm competition. EPIC previously opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which was approved by the FTC over the objection of former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbor. EPIC later testified before the Antitrust committee on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services. Earlier this year, the Commission closed an antitrust investigation into Google’s search practices. For more information, see EPIC: Federal trade Commission and EPIC: Google/DoubleClick.
  • EPIC Asks FTC to Investigate Snapchat » (May. 17, 2013)
    EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages user to share intimate photos and videos. The company represents that users can make photos and videos "disappear forever." In fact, the photos can be retrieved by others after they should have vanished. The EPIC complaint implicates Privacy Enhancing Technologies, which if properly implemented would minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. The FTC described similar methods in a 2012 privacy report. Previously, EPIC filed a complaint at the FTC against AskEraser, which falsely represented that search queries would be deleted when in fact they were retained by the company and made available to law enforcement agencies. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Rejects Industry Effort to Delay Children’s Privacy Rules » (May. 6, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission has rejected an effort by several trade groups to delay implementation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, currently scheduled to take effect on July 1. In voting unanimously to retain the date, the FTC noted that it had given covered entities at least 6 months to prepare for the Rule and that industry had "not raised any concrete facts to demonstrate that a delay is necessary." The new Rule expands the definition of personal information to include geolocation information and persistent identifiers (or cookies), and prevents third-party advertisers from secretly collecting children's personal information without parental consent for behavioral advertising purposes. EPIC joined a coalition of consumer, privacy, and children's advocates in urging the FTC to keep the original implementation date. EPIC also commented in support of both the proposed rule, and a revised version introduced in August 2012. The revised rule follows a report by the FTC finding that many child-directed mobile apps did not disclose their data practices. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Children's Online Privacy.
  • EPIC Pursues Public Release of Facebook and MySpace Privacy Reports » (Apr. 26, 2013)
    EPIC has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the release of the privacy assessments of Facebook and MySpace submitted to the Federal Trade Commission. As a result of privacy violations, both companies are required to implement comprehensive privacy programs and submit to independent, biennial evaluations for 20 years. Previously, EPIC obtained a copy of Google's initial privacy assessment that redacted information about the standards by which the assessment was completed, the test procedures used to assess the effectiveness of Google's privacy controls, the procedures Google uses to identify privacy risks, and the types of personal data Google collects from users. The FTC settlements with Facebook and Google arose from complaints brought by EPIC and other consumer organizations. In comments to the agency on the proposed settlements, EPIC recommended that the privacy assessments be publicly available. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Open Government.
  • Consumer Groups Oppose Delay for New Children’s Privacy Rules » (Apr. 23, 2013)
    A group of consumer, privacy, and children's advocates wrote to the Federal Trade Commission to oppose an industry effort to delay implementation of the new Children's Online Privacy Protection Act rule. The groups noted that two-and-a-half years have passed since the Commission proposed the updates to COPPA. They said there was no "compelling reason for giving the industry more time to comply with the law." The new Rule expands the definition of personal information to include geolocation information and persistent identifiers (or cookies), and prevents third-party advertisers from secretly collecting children's personal information without parental consent for advertising purposes. EPIC previously commented in support of the proposed rule and a revised version. The new safeguards follow a report by the FTC finding that many child-directed mobile apps conceal their data collection practices. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Children’s Online Privacy.
  • FTC Releases 2013 Report » (Apr. 16, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission has released its annual report for the period from April 2012-2013. The report begins with a description of the FTC’s accomplishments on consumer privacy, and lists the data-breach lawsuit against Wyndham, Google’s $22.5 million fine for tracking Safari users, settlements with the data brokers Equifax and Spokeo, and a survey of the credit reporting industry. EPIC has previously recommended that the FTC enforce its consent orders with Google and Facebook, require adoption of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and modify proposed settlements in response to public comment. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Comments on FTC's FOIA Procedures » (Apr. 4, 2013)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, supporting several of the agency's changes to its FOIA regulations. EPIC applauded the agency for reducing fees for requesters. EPIC also urged the Committee to: (1) update its definition for news media representative; (2) clarify which documents are public information and ensure that hyperlinks to those records work properly; (3) disclose private sector contract rates for FOIA processing; (4) refrain from prematurely closing FOIA requests; and (5) adopt alternative dispute resolution or arbitration when resolving delinquent FOIA fees. EPIC routinely comments on agency proposals that impact the rights of FOIA requesters. Last year, EPIC submitted extensive comments to theDepartment of Defense, warning the agency not to erect new obstacles for FOIA requesters. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government.
  • EU Takes Action Against Google for Privacy Policy Meltdown » (Apr. 2, 2013)
    Data protection agencies in six European countries have announced enforcement actions against Google. The agencies acted after Google ignored recommendations to comply with European data protection law. "It is now up to each national data protection authority to carry out further investigations according to the provisions of its national law transposing European legislation," the French data protection authority said. The enforcement action follows from Google's March 2012 decision to combine user data across 60 Internet services to create detailed profiles on Internet users. Last year, EPIC sued the Federal Trade Commission to force the FTC to enforce the terms of a settlement with Google that would have prohibited Google's changes in business practices. Google's revised privacy policies also prompted objections from state attorneys general, members of Congress, and IT managers in the government and private sectors. For more information, see EPIC: Google Buzz and EPIC: Enforcement of Google Consent Order.
  • EPIC, Consumer Privacy Groups Call on FTC Chair to Appoint Consumer Advocate for Key Office » (Mar. 19, 2013)
    Over thirty privacy and consumer groups wrote to the FTC Chair Edith Ramirez, urging her to appoint a Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection who is "independent of industry" and has a "well-established consumer rights and public interest background." The letter comes after the departure of former director David Vladeck. EPIC has also urged the Commission to require compliance with the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for companies that violate consumer privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Court Denies Appeal in Cy Pres Matter Over Objection that Settlement Fails to Provide Relief to Class Members » (Feb. 28, 2013)
    The Ninth Circuit has refused to hear an appeal in a case involving a class-action lawsuit over Facebook’s Beacon program, which disclosed personal information without user consent. "Cy pres" ("as near as possible") is a legal doctrine that allows courts to allocate funds to protect the interests of individuals when there is a class action settlement. Courts typically provide cy pres awards that reflect the reason for the litigation and are aligned with the interests of class members. In the Facebook case the court chose instead to provide the funds to a new foundation created by Facebook, which was appealed. Six judges dissented from the denial, writing that "the majority in this case creates a significant loophole in our case law that will confuse litigants and judges, while endorsing cy pres settlements that in no way benefit class members." EPIC previously highlighted the dangers of improper cy pres distributions in settlements. For more information, see EPIC: Fraley v. Facebook, EPIC: Lane v. Facebook, and EPIC: In re: Google Buzz.
  • FTC Approves Final Settlement over Consumer Tracking, Fails to Enforce FIPs or Suggest Best Practices for Anonymization » (Feb. 26, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission adopted a proposed settlement with Compete, Inc., over allegations that Compete failed to adopt reasonable data security practices and deceived consumers about the amount of personal information that its toolbar and survey panel would collect. The FTC also charged Compete with deceptive practices for falsely claiming that the data it kept was anonymous. The settlement requires Compete to obtain consumers' express consent before collecting any data through its software, to delete personal information already collected, and to provide directions for uninstalling its software. In comments to the agency, EPIC recommended that the FTC also require the Compete to implement Fair Information Practices similar to those contained in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and develop a best practices guide to de-identification techniques. The FTC declined to adopt EPIC’s recommendations, stating that it "does not provide specific technical guidance in areas like [anonymization], which are constantly changing," and "may not impose additional obligations that are not reasonably related to such conduct or preventing its recurrence." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Re-Identification.
  • FTC Reaches Settlement with Mobile App Path over Privacy Violations » (Feb. 1, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with the social networking app Path over charges that the app secretly collected information from mobile users' address books without their consent. The FTC also fined the company $800,000 for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the collection of personal information from a children without obtaining parental consent. The consent order requires Path to implement a comprehensive privacy program and to submit to independent privacy assessments for the next 20 years. The FTC has released a series of reports documenting privacy problems with mobile apps that collect the personal information of children. Recently, EPIC submitted comments supporting the FTC’s proposed improvements to the children’s online privacy rule, which the agency ended up adopting. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Children's Online Privacy.
  • FTC Denies White House Involvement in Decision to Close Google Investigation » (Jan. 18, 2013)
    In response to a FOIA request filed by EPIC, the Federal Trade Commission has stated that there are no records of "communications . . . between the White House and the FTC regarding the Commission's antitrust inquiry into Google." In a closely watched proceeding, the Federal Trade Commission announced in early January that it had closed an antitrust inquiry into Google's business practices. EPIC has previously expressed concern about anticompetitive practices by Internet firms. In 2000, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal TradeCommission regarding the proposed merger of Doubleclick, an Internet advertising company and Abacus, a catalog database firm. In 2007, EPIC opposed Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, which was approved by the FTC over the objection of former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbor. In 2011, EPIC wrote to the FTC about Google's use of YouTube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its proprietary content over non-Google content. EPIC has also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding growing market concentration of essential Internet services. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Closes Investigation into Google Search Bias » (Jan. 3, 2013)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced that it had concluded its investigation into allegedly anticompetitive practices by Google. The Commission reached a settlement with Google that would give competitors access to patents necessary to make smart phones, laptops, and other devices, and Google voluntarily agreed to stop borrowing others' content for use in its own services. On the issue of search bias, however, the Commission decided to close the investigation without taking action. Despite finding some evidence that changes to the company's search algorithm harmed competitors, the Commission said that these changes "could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google's product and the experience of its users." In 2011, EPIC wrote to the Commission about Google's use of Youtube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its own video content over non-Google content. EPIC had also opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which was approved by the FTC over the objection of former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbor. EPIC later testified before the Antitrust committee on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Google/DoubleClick.
  • Instagram Retreats on Changes to Terms of Service, Cites User Opposition » (Dec. 21, 2012)
    Instagram announced that it would withdraw proposed changes to its terms of service announced earlier this week. Instagram backed off a plan to use the names, images, and photos of users for advertising purposes, pleading instead to "complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work." Instagram's parent company, Facebook, is bound by the terms of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, initiated in 2009 by EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations, that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. A recent letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy warned that Facebook's proposed changes would adversely affect Instagram users. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: FTC.
  • FTC Releases Updated Children’s Online Privacy Rule » (Dec. 19, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has updated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The new Rule expands the definition of personal information to include geolocation information and persistent identifiers (or "cookies)", and prevents third-party advertisers from secretly collecting children’s personal information without parental consent for behavioral advertising purposes. EPIC supported the changes and responded to criticisms from industry groups. In 2010, EPIC testified before the United States Senate that the 1998 law was critical to protect the privacy of children but that updates were also essential in light of new business practices, the emergence of social networks, smartphone apps. A subsequent FTC report found that many child-directed mobile apps lack adequate privacy safeguards. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Children's Online Privacy.
  • FTC Pursues Investigation of Data Brokers » (Dec. 19, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued orders requiring nine data brokerage companies to provide the agency with information about how they collect and use data about consumers. The agency said it will use the information to study privacy practices in the data broker industry. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. In 2005, EPIC brought a complaint to the FTC against the data broker Choicepoint that produced a $10 million settlement, then the largest in the FTC's history for a violation of federal privacy law. For more information, see EPIC: ChoicePoint and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Instagram Privacy Change Raises Legal Questions » (Dec. 18, 2012)
    Instagram recently announced several changes to the terms of service that will allow the company to use pictures in advertisements without notifying or compensating users, and to disclose user data to Facebook and to advertisers. Instagram also proposed that the parents of minors implicitly consent to the use of their childrens' images for advertising purposes. The changes The changes will take effect January 16, 2013, and will not apply to pictures uploaded before that date. Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, is under a 2011 consent order with the Federal Trade Commission that that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users’ personal information. Using an individual’s name or likeness for commercial purposes without consent is also prohibited in most states. EPIC had recently urged Facebook users to vote for "Existing Documents," warning that under the changed terms of service, Facebook would loosen privacy controls and that would impact Instagram. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
  • Facebook Updates Privacy Controls, Removes Profiles Safeguard » (Dec. 13, 2012)
    Facebook announced changes to its privacy controls and the privacy settings of its users. The changes include settings that allow users to choose which information apps can access and disclose, and a privacy shortcuts menu. But Facebook also removed an option that allowed users to hide themselves from strangers through Facebook’s search function. The changes follow an election conducted by Facebook in which 88 percent of voters opposed changing the privacy policy and voting rights of users. EPIC previously wrote to the Federal Trade Commission regarding the blanket disclosure features of certain apps and the proposal to end the voting part of the site governance process Facebook. Facebook is currently subject to a settlement with the FTC over privacy violations. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook and EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • 88% of Facebook Users Oppose Changes to Privacy Policy and Voting Rights, EPIC Urges FB to Withdraw Proposal » (Dec. 10, 2012)
    Preliminary results from the recent Facebook Site Governance Vote, indicate that 589,141 Facebook users voted to keep the existing Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Privacy Policy. Only 79,731 voted for the proposed changes. In the largest vote in Facebook history, approximately 88% of users who voted favored the existing documents. EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy earlier wrote FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg, recommending that the proposal be withdrawn. In 2009, Facebook withdrew proposed changes to the Terms of Service after 150,000 users formed a group "FB Users Against the New TOS." In 2007, FB backed off "Beacon," a controversial marketing technique, when 50,000 users signed a petition. Facebook is currently under a consent order with the US Federal Trade Commission. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook.
  • FTC Report Finds Privacy Problems for Children’s Mobile Apps » (Dec. 10, 2012)
    A report by the Federal Trade Commission found little progress on transparency for child-directed mobile applications. The FTC surveyed apps from Google Play and Apple App stores and concluded that "many apps included interactive features or shared kids' information with third parties without disclosing these practices to parents." The report commits the FTC to another review of the app marketplace and indicates that the agency has launched "multiple non-public" investigations to determine whether certain apps had engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices or violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC recently proposed revisions to the COPPA Rule, which EPIC supported. For more information, see EPIC: Children’s Online Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Urges Vote for EXISTING Facebook Documents » (Dec. 4, 2012)
    Facebook has proposed changes to its policies that would (1) end user voting, (2) remove spam blocking, and (3) share FB user data with affiliates without user consent. EPIC and others are urging Faceboook users to participate in the Facebook Governance Vote and to vote for EXISTING documents. Anyone with a Facebook account can VOTE HERE. #existingdocuments
  • EPIC: Hearing on FTC Nominee Should Address FTC's Settlement Process for Privacy Violations » (Dec. 4, 2012)
    In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, EPIC has recommended that Congress require the Federal Trade Commission to consider more carefully the public's views on proposed privacy settlements. EPIC also recommended that the FTC require compliance with the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for companies that violate consumer privacy. The Committee is holding a hearing on the nomination of Joshua Wright to the FTC. The letter states that EPIC takes no position on the nomination of Dr. Wright, but encourages Congress to take the opportunity to explore the Commission's response to growing public concerns about privacy. EPIC routinely submits comments to the FTC on proposed consent orders, most recently on the Compete, Inc. settlement. EPIC has also recommended that the FTC promote the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in privacy settlements. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Privacy Groups Ask Facebook to Withdraw Proposed Changes » (Nov. 26, 2012)
    EPIC, along with the Center for Digital Democracy, has asked Facebook to withdraw proposed changes that will impact the privacy of users and their ability to participate in site governance. Facebook recently proposed to end the voting part of the site governance process, restrict users' ability to prevent unwanted messages, and combine personal information from Facebook with Instagram. In the letter, the groups say "[b]ecause these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes." Facebook users may also comment directly on the proposed changes. Facebook is subject to the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that prohibits the company from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook.
  • Pew Survey Finds Most Parents Concerned About Children's Online Privacy » (Nov. 21, 2012)
    A new report from the Pew Research Center and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society finds that 81% of parents are concerned about how much information advertisers can learn about their child's online behavior. Also, 69% of parents of online teens are concerned about how their child’s online activity might affect their future academic or employment opportunities. And 63% of parents of teens ages 12-13 say they are "very" concerned about their child's interactions with people they do not know online. Many parents reported taking steps to address these risks, such as talking to their children or helping them configure privacy settings. The Federal Trade Commission is considering new privacy rules to strengthen the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. EPIC strongly supports the proposed changes. For more information, see EPIC: Children's Online Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Releases 2012 Performance Report » (Nov. 20, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has released its performance and accountability report for 2012. The report summarizes the agency’s activities, shows how the agency has managed its resources, and explains how it plans to address future changes. Regarding consumer privacy, the agency cites the release of a new privacy report, the adoption of a consent order with Facebook, and a $22.5 million fine against Google as its primary accomplishments . The Commission reported that it acted on 90.6% of all consumer complaints that it received, though it did not indicate how many of these actions concerned consumer privacy. The agency’s goals for the coming year include “promot[ing] stronger privacy protections through policy initiatives on a range of topics such as data brokers, mobile devices, and comprehensive online data collection.” Earlier this year, EPIC brought suit against the Federal Trade Commission for its failure to enforce a 2011 consent order. EPIC has also routinely urged the FTC to take account of public comments when the agencies sets out proposed settlements and asks for public comments. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Enforcement of Google Consent Order).
  • EPIC Submits Comments to FTC on Consumer Tracking Settlement » (Nov. 20, 2012)
    EPIC submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission on a recent settlement with Compete, Inc. The settlement arises from allegations that Compete failed to adopt reasonable data security practices and deceived consumers about the amount of personal information that its toolbar and survey panel would collect. The FTC also charged Compete with deceptive practices for falsely claiming that the data it kept was anonymous. The proposed settlement requires Compete to obtain consumers’ express consent before collecting any data through its software, to delete personal information already collected, and to provide directions for uninstalling its software. EPIC expressed support for the settlement, but recommended that the FTC also require the Compete to implement Fair Information Practices similar to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, make the compliance reports publicly available, and develop a best practices guide to de-identification techniques, as anonymization has become more critical for online privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Re-Identification.
  • Senate Reauthorizes SAFE WEB Act » (Nov. 15, 2012)
    The Senate has approved a House bill to reauthorize the SAFE WEB Act. The SAFE WEB Act gives the Federal Trade Commission additional tools to combat cross-border fraud, spam, and spyware. EPIC previously testified before both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the SAFE WEB Act. EPIC said that it supported legislation that safeguards privacy and ensures government oversight while enabling the FTC to work more closely with consumer protection agencies in other countries. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Lawmakers Gain "Partial Glimpse" into Data Brokers' Business Practices » (Nov. 8, 2012)
    Members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus released the responses of several data brokers to an inquiry into their business practices. Data brokers collect and sell the personal information of consumers to third parties, typically without the knowledge of the consumers themselves. The lawmakers reported that most of the companies did not consider themselves "data brokers," and that "[m]any questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers." The Federal Trade Commission recently called for data-broke legislation in a report on consumer privacy. In 2005, EPIC brought a complaint against the data broker Choicepoint that produced a $10 million settlement, the largest in the FTC's history for a violation of federal privacy law. For more information, see EPIC: ChoicePoint and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Comments on FTC Rent-to-Own Computer Spying Settlement » (Oct. 26, 2012)
    EPIC has submitted comments on a series of settlements between the Federal Trade Commission and companies that offered computers on a rent-to-own basis, typically to low-income consumers. The companies installed surveillance technology that secretly recorded keystrokes, location information, screenshots, and even took webcam photos. The settlements prohibit the companies from deceptively collecting information from consumers or collecting location information without consent, and require them to destroy the illegally-gathered data. EPIC expressed support for the settlements, and also recommended that the FTC also require the companies to implement Fair Information Practices similar to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; make the compliance reports publicly available, and hold a workshop on privacy and inequality. EPIC routinely comments on the FTC's proposed settlements concerning consumer privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Federal Trade Commission Proposes "Best Practices" for Facial Recognition Technology » (Oct. 22, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has released a report recommending practices that businesses using facial recognition technology should follow in order to protect the privacy and security of consumers. The report noted that facial recognition techniques range from simple face detection to the identification of previously anonymous individuals. The FTC recommended several practices for all businesses, such as privacy by design, data deletion, and security standards. In services involving facial recognition to identify individuals, the FTC recommended that companies obtain the affirmative express consent of consumers, and in certain sensitive locations, such as health care facilities, the FTC said that the technology should not be used at all. In earlier comments to the Commission, EPIC recommended a moratorium on the use of facial recognition until adequate privacy safeguards are developed. A similar recommendation is found in the Madrid Privacy Declaration, which is endorsed by more than 100 civil society organizations worldwide. Facebook has ended the use of facial recognition in the European Union and suspended use in the United States. For more information, see EPIC: Face Recognition and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Verizon Begins Invasive Marketing Program » (Oct. 22, 2012)
    Verizon has begun selling the personal information of Verizon users, including location information and web browsing activity. The collection of content information implicates federal wiretapping law, although some have suggested that Verizon escapes liability by allowing users to opt-out. EPIC previously filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Verizon’s business practices, which EPIC described as “unfair and deceptive, contrary to the privacy and security interests of Verizon Wireless customers, and actionable by the Federal Trade Commission.” For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
  • FTC Holds "Robocall Summit" » (Oct. 18, 2012)
    A Federal Trade Commission workshop on automated telephone calls focused on the legal and technical aspects of robocalls, including the current state of telephonic technology, call authentication technology, and call blocking technology. The Federal Communications Commission recently established new penalties for Caller ID "spoofing," the practice of faking caller ID information. In comments to the FCC and testimony before Congress, EPIC recommended, and Congress and the FCC agreed, that intent to do harm is necessary in order to trigger the penalties, because spoofing can also be used to maintain anonymity, and to protect, for example, victims of domestic violence. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Caller ID.
  • EPIC FOIA Uncovers Google’s Privacy Assessment » (Sep. 28, 2012)
    Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC has obtained Google's initial privacy assessment. The assessment was required by a settlement between Google and the FTC that followed from a 2010 complaint filed by EPIC over Google Buzz. The FTC has withheld from public disclosure information about the audit process, procedures to assess privacy controls, techniques to identify privacy risks, and the types of personal data Google collects from users. EPIC intends to challenge the agency withholdings. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, EPIC: Google Buzz, and EPIC: Open Government.
  • Consumer Groups Ask FTC to Investigate Facebook-Datalogix Data-Matching Arrangement » (Sep. 27, 2012)
    EPIC, joined by the Center for Digital Democracy, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook's data-matching arrangement with Datalogix violates a settlement between the FTC and Facebook. Facebook is matching the personal information of users with personal information held by Datalogix. The settlement, adopted in August, prohibits Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users’ personal information. EPIC had previously asked the FTC to determine whether "Timeline," which made archived user data widely available, or biometric tagging of user photos violated the terms of the consent order. The FTC has not made a determination on the EPIC Timeline request, and Facebook has suspended facial recognition in the US. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Datalogix.
  • EPIC Supports New Children’s Privacy Rule » (Sep. 27, 2012)
    EPIC submitted comments on the Federal Trade Commission's revisions to the proposed Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule. EPIC said that it supported the new definitions of "operator" and "website or online service directed to children," which hold child-directed websites and third-party services responsible for the collection of children’s personal information, but asked the FTC to monitor age-screening and to clarify the scope of a provision on using persistent identifiers, such as "cookies." EPIC supported the original FTC rule in September 2011, noting that the proposed revisions take "account of the increased use of mobile devices by users and new data collection practices by businesses." For more information, see EPIC: Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook Ceases Facial Recognition in European Union » (Sep. 21, 2012)
    The Irish Data Protection Commissioner issued a report finding that Facebook has implemented many of the Commissioner’s recommendations, such as halting the automatic use of facial recognition through "tag suggestions." Facebook has agreed to give users the choice over the use of facial recognition, to grant users access to their facial recognition template, and to delete the facial recognition data of EU citizens by October 15. The report also found that Facebook had implemented recommendations for improving transparency, enhancing the ability for users to delete data, and allowing users to access their data. On recommendations concerning user education, data deletion, and as targeting based on sensitive terms, the report found that "full implementation has not yet been achieved but is planned to be achieved by a specific deadline." The Federal Trade Commission recently adopted a proposed settlement with Facebook that prohibits Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In November 2011, EPIC recommended that the FTC prevent Facebook from creating facial recognition profiles without users' consent. In February 2012. EPIC recommended "the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
  • FTC Finalizes Settlement with Myspace » (Sep. 11, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has finalized the terms of a settlement with Myspace. The settlement follows from allegations that Myspace allowed advertisers to access personally-identifying information after promising to keep such information private. The settlement requires Myspace to implement a comprehensive privacy program, submit to independent audits, and refrain from privacy misrepresentations. EPIC commented on the settlement, recommending that the FTC make the settlement at least as protective as a previous settlement with Facebook. Additionally, EPIC said, the FTC should require Myspace to implement practices consistent with the White House’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. In response to EPIC’s comments, the FTC decided to accept the proposed settlement without modification but said that “the privacy program mandated under the consent order will require Myspace to address many of the consumer protections discussed in your comment.” For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Judge Rejects Settlement in Facebook "Sponsored Stories" Case » (Aug. 21, 2012)
    A federal judge has rejected a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit about Facebook's unapproved use of user images for advertising purposes. The judge, who had previously expressed skepticism about the terms of the settlement, wrote that the plaintiffs had not justified the lack of direct monetary payments to Facebook users, nor had they explained how users will receive an economic benefit from being able to opt out of future endorsements. EPIC and several consumer privacy organizations opposed the settlement, saying that there was little benefit to Facebook users and that the cy pres allocation was not aligned with the interests of the class. In 2009 and 2010 EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations brought a successful complaint to the Federal Trade Commission that resulted in a significant consent order. In a letter to the court following the recent court order, EPIC explained that the FTC settlement had produced far greater benefits for Facebook users. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • FTC Finalizes Settlement with Facebook » (Aug. 10, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has finalized the terms of a settlement with Facebook first announced in November of 2011. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC recommended strengthening the settlement by requiring Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; giving users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; preventing Facebook from creating facial recognition profiles without users’ consent; and publicizing the results of the government privacy audits. Although the FTC decided to adopt the settlement without any modifications, in a response to EPIC, the Commission said that facial recognition data is included within the settlement's definition of "covered information," that the audits would be publicly available to the extent permitted by law, and that the terms of the settlement "are broad enough to address misconduct beyond that expressly challenged in the complaint." Commissioner Rosch dissented from the final settlement, citing concerns that the provisions might not adequately cover deceptive statements made by Facebook apps. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Judge Skeptical of Facebook Settlement » (Aug. 3, 2012)
    At a preliminary hearing on a proposed settlement involving Facebook "sponsored stories," Judge Seeborg expressed skepticism about the deal, wondering if there was any actual benefit to Facebook users. The deal, which had been endorsed by some groups funded by Facebook, was opposed by EPIC and several consumer privacy organizations. In 2009, EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations brought a successful complaint to the FTC that resulted in a significant consent order. For more information, see In re Facebook.
  • Illinois Becomes Third State to Prohibit Employers from Demanding Facebook Information » (Aug. 2, 2012)
    Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a bill that will prohibit employers from seeking the social network usernames and passwords of others. The Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act takes effect on January 1, 2013, and will result in Illinois joining Maryland and Delaware as the third state that protects the social network privacy of employees and job applicants. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • FTC Proposes Additional Changes to Children’s Online Privacy Rule » (Aug. 1, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission proposed additional changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Rule. The revised rule would clarify that operators of websites who choose to use advertising services and plug-ins that collect data about children would have to comply with COPPA. The rule would also allow mixed-audience websites to age-screen visitors, and would clarify the circumstances in which persistent identifiers such as cookies or IP addresses are considered "personal information." The revisions modify an earlier rule that was proposed by the FTC in September 2011. EPIC commented on the September 2011 rule, noting that "the proposed revisions update the COPPA Rule by taking better account of the increased use of mobile devices by users and of new data collection practices by businesses." For more information, see EPIC: Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Objects to Facebook Settlement, Cites Failure to Benefit Class Members » (Jul. 13, 2012)
    EPIC has asked a federal judge to reject a pending class action settlement concerning Facebook, stating that it does not actually benefit Facebook users. In one letter to the court, EPIC explained that the settlement does not fix the problem with "Sponsored Stories." In a second letter, joined by consumer, privacy, and academic organizations, EPIC said that "cy pres" funds should be distributed according to objective criteria, as courts have done in other similar cases. (Cy pres allows courts to allocate funds in class action settlements.) In 2009, EPIC led a coalition of consumer and privacy organizations that was responsible for the FTC's privacy settlement with Facebook.] And EPIC has routinely represented the interests of Facbeook users. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Develop Meaningful Privacy Protections for Mobile Services » (Jul. 11, 2012)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission concerning "Advertising and Privacy Disclosures in a Digital World". The FTC is currently exploring ways businesses could improve privacy notices for mobile devices. EPIC pointed out that many of the techniques, such as privacy icons, suffer from the same problems as traditional privacy notices. EPIC recommended that the FTC focus instead on substantive privacy protections, such as those found in the federal Privacy Act, sectoral privacy laws, and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, proposed by the White House. An earlier FTC report called for new privacy legislation and an FTC investigation documented privacy problems with mobile applications for children. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Calls On FTC to Investigate Facebook Email Changes » (Jun. 27, 2012)
    EPIC has asked the Federal Trade Commission to review Facebook's decision to change the default email address of Facebook users. The company recently removed email addresses, selected by users, with a @facebook.com address assigned by Facebook. EPIC asked the FTC to review this practice as it finalizes the terms of a settlement with Facebook. "Facebook's willingness to disregard user choice . . . raise[s] important questions about the company's ability to comply with the terms of the proposed Consent Order," EPIC wrote. EPIC also said that the change is a deceptive business practice because Facebook did not tell users that their preferred email address could be removed by the company. And EPIC noted that the change would result in user email being sent to Facebook's servers that would otherwise have gone to the user's email service. The FTC's settlement with Facebook follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. The settlement would bar Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • Facebook Acquires Facial Recognition Company Face.com » (Jun. 20, 2012)
    Facebook announced the acquisition of Face.com, a facial recognition technology company and long-time business partner of Facebook. Facebook uses an automatic facial recognition system, called "tag suggestions," to create a database of users' biometric information. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that Facebook created biometric profiles of users without their explicit consent, failed to provide a clear mechanism for the deletion of these profiles, and failed to take adequate safeguards to ensure that users' biometric information would not be accessible to government agents and other third parties. In recent comments to the FTC, EPIC recommended the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established. For more information, see EPIC: Facial Recognition and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
  • Spokeo to Pay $800, 000 to Trade Commission to Settle Privacy Violations » (Jun. 12, 2012)
    The data broker Spokeo agreed to pay $800,000 to settle a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission that the company marketed its data profiles to employers in violation of federal privacy law. The FTC alleges that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to ensure that its information was accurate, failing to ensure that it would be used only for legally permissible purposes, and failing to tell users if adverse decisions were made based on the information. The FTC also alleged that Spokeo created its own endorsements on news and technology websites and represented them as independent endorsements. The FTC's settlement bans Spokeo from future FCRA violations and misrepresentations. In 2004, EPIC successfully urged the FTC to investigate the compilation and sale of personal dossiers by the data broker ChoicePoint. That investigation produced a $10 m settlement, the largest in the FTC's history for a violation of federal privacy law. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Choicepoint.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Privacy of Myspace Users » (Jun. 8, 2012)
    EPIC submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission on a proposed settlement with Myspace. The settlement follows from allegations that Myspace allowed advertisers to access personally-identifying information after promising to keep such information private. The settlement requires Myspace to implement a comprehensive privacy program, submit to independent audits, and refrain from privacy misrepresentations. EPIC expressed support for the settlement in general, but recommended that the FTC make the settlement at least as protective as a previous settlement with Facebook. Additionally, EPIC said, the FTC should require Myspace to implement practices consistent with the White House's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Facebook Users Force Vote on Privacy Changes » (May. 22, 2012)
    Facebook users have registered enough comments on Facebook's proposed privacy changes to force a vote on the issue. A provision in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities states that Facebook will allow users to vote on proposed alternatives if more than 7,000 users comment on a proposed change. The vote is binding if "more than 30 percent of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote." Facebook's Data Use Policy accumulated 10,500 comments in English. The group Europe v. Facebook generated 30,000 comments on the German version of the page. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook that follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • EPIC Calls on FTC to Develop Substantive Privacy Protections at Workshop on Mobile Advertising » (May. 11, 2012)
    EPIC submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission for the May 30 workshop on mobile advertising disclosures. EPIC recommended that the agency focus on the development of substantive privacy protections, such as the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights announced by the President earlier this year, for mobile services. EPIC also recommended that the workshop address a series of problems with the "notice and consent" approach, as well as the merits of innovative, nonverbal approaches proposed by privacy scholars. The workshop follows an FTC report calling for privacy legislation and an investigation that documented privacy problems with mobile applications for children. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Myspace Settles With FTC Over Deceptive Practices Complaint » (May. 8, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with the social networking service Myspace over charges that Myspace allowed advertisers to access personally-identifying information after promising to keep such information private. Advertisers were able to access the unique "Friend ID" of users and link this identifier to other personal information. The settlement requires Myspace to implement a comprehensive privacy program, submit to independent audits, and refrain from privacy misrepresentations. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Following Maryland, Congress and California Consider Bills Banning Employers From Asking for Facebook Passwords » (May. 1, 2012)
    Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act, a bill that would prohibit employers, colleges, universities, and K-12 schools from seeking usernames or passwords for the social media accounts of employees or students. Similar legislation was introduced in California. Maryland became the first state to ban employers from asking employees or applicants for social networking passwords. Senators Blumenthal and Schumer have asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the practice. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Facebook Asks for Feedback after Policy Changes » (Apr. 23, 2012)
    Facebook has re-opened its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for comment after making changes to the original document. Although users’ personal data can still be accessed by the apps of their friends, Facebook clarified that users could prevent this by changing the “Apps and Websites” settings. Facebook also deleted a provision reserving the right to “exclude or limit the provision of any service or feature in our sole discretion” in certain geographic areas after users raised concerns about censorship. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook after finding that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 and bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC recommended that Facebook restore the privacy settings that users had in place when the violations occurred. In response to Facebook's prior policy change, EPIC noted that the data-disclosure practices of applications implicated issues that led the creation of the consent order. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • Facebook Offers Revised “Download Your Information” Option » (Apr. 12, 2012)
    The New York Times reported that Facebook would provide users with a downloadable archive containing many types of data that the company stores about users. Although the new archive contains more user information than Facebook first offered in 2010, Max Schrems, the German law student and founder of Europe v. Facebook, said that Facebook is still only providing 39 of 84 data categories. EPIC called on Facebook to give users full access to all of the data that the company keeps about them through EPIC’s Know What They Know campaign. In comments on a settlement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC recommended that the FTC require Facebook to give users full access to their data. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Know What They Know.
  • Maryland Passes Bill Banning Employers from Demanding Facebook Information » (Apr. 11, 2012)
    The Maryland legislature passed the first bill banning employers from asking employees or applicants for social networking passwords. The bill was introduced after Robert Collins, an employee at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, was asked to turn over his Facebook password as part the process of being reinstated as a corrections officer. Recently, Senators Blumenthal and Schumer asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the practice of employers asking job applicants to surrender user names and passwords for social networking sites like Facebook. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • FTC Announces $30 Million Penalty Against Deceptive Robocallers » (Apr. 2, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced that a federal judge has ordered the defendants behind a deceptive robocall scheme to pay a $30 million civil penalty and surrender more than $1.1 million in ill-gotten gains. The scheme promised "cash grants" to individuals—many of whom were on the Do No Call Registry--but merely referred them to grant-related websites that charged a fee for providing general information about obtaining grants from private sources. The FTC determined that the robocalls violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
  • FTC Announces Settlement with RockYou Over Security Flaws, COPPA Violations » (Mar. 27, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with the social game site RockYou over charges that the site's poor security allowed hackers to access the personal information of 32 million users. The FTC also alleged that RockYou violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Rule by knowingly collecting approximately 179,000 children's email addresses and associated passwords without the consent of their parents. The settlement prohibits future deceptive claims by the company regarding privacy and data security and future violations of the COPPA Rule, and requires the company to implement a data security program and to pay a $250,000 civil penalty. Last year, the FTC proposed new COPPA rules to better protect children, about which EPIC submitted comments. For more information, see EPIC: Children’s Online Privacy and EPIC: FTC.
  • Federal Trade Commission Calls for Privacy Legislation » (Mar. 26, 2012)
    Today the Federal Trade Commission released Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change. The FTC report called for the enactment of baseline privacy legislation and for legislation that gives consumers the right to access personal information held by data brokers. However, the framework is not as extensive as the White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and depends on industry self-regulation. EPIC previously commented on an earlier draft of the framework, pointing out that the FTC "mistakenly endorses self-regulation and 'notice and choice,' and fails to explain why it has not used its current Section 5 authority to better safeguard the interests of consumers." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Senators Call for Investigation into Employer Demands for Facebook Passwords » (Mar. 26, 2012)
    Senators Blumenthal and Schumer asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate the practice of employers asking job applicants to surrender Facebook user names and passwords. The Senators pointed out that accessing an applicant's profile could reveal sensitive information that employers are not permitted to ask about or base hiring decisions on. Thus, employers could be violating the Civil Rights Act and other federal laws, including the Stored Communication Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibit "unauthorized access" to electronic information. “Requiring applicants to provide login credentials to secure social media websites and then using those credentials to access private information stored on those sites may be unduly coercive and therefore constitute unauthorized access under both [Acts]," the letter states. For more information, see EPIC: Workplace Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Facebook Policy Changes Raises Questions About Compliance with 2011 Consent Order » (Mar. 23, 2012)
    Facebook has begun to review comments on changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Among other changes, Facebook now states that a user's information is disclosed to apps used by his or her friends, that Facebook software or plugins that users download may automatically download updates, upgrades, and additional features, and that users may not tag others who do not wish to be tagged. The FTC recently issued a proposed settlement with Facebook after finding that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." In particular, the FTC found that Facebook had misled users about the extent to which their personal information would be made available to apps used by their friends. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 and bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. In comments filed with the FTC, EPIC said that the settlement is "insufficient to address the concerns originally identified by EPIC and the consumer coalition, as well as those findings established by the Commission." For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • Twitter to Sell Two Years' Worth of Old Tweets » (Mar. 2, 2012)
    Twitter recently announced a deal with the analytics firm Datasift that authorizes Datasift to sell the content of public tweets posted over the last two years. Companies who buy the data from Datasift will be able to market to users based on the topic or location of the tweets. DataSift will be required to regularly remove tweets that users delete. Previously, Twitter gave the Library of Congress access to every public tweet since the company’s inception in 2006. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with Twitter over charges that inadequate security measures allowed computer criminals to gain administrative access to the company. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • European Justice Minister Says Google Now in Violation of EU Law » (Mar. 1, 2012)
    European Justice Minister Vivian Reding said today that Google's March 1 changes to its terms of service violate European Union law "in numerous respects." Commissioner Reding pointed to the failure of the company to obtain user consent, the lack of transparency, and the fact that most users do not read privacy policies. European privacy officials recently concluded that the changes do not comply with the European Union Data Protection Directive and asked the company to suspend its planned changes. In the US, EPIC has urged a federal court to require the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether Google's changes changes violate a 2011 Consent Order. The court denied the motion. The case is now on appeal. For more information, see EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • Identity Theft Remains Top Concern of US Consumers » (Feb. 29, 2012)
    According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft was the top source of consumer complaints in 2011 comprising 15 percent of the 1.8 million total complaints filed. This is the 12th year in a row in which identity theft has occupied the top position. The report contains data on 30 complaint categories, which are broken down by metropolitan areas and provided to state and local law enforcement offices. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Identity Theft.
  • FTC Chairman: Google Users Face a "brutal choice" -- Europeans: "Google's new policy does not meet the requirements of the European Directive on Data Protection." » (Feb. 28, 2012)
    Pressure is building as the March 1 deadline for Google's planned changes in user privacy approaches. In an interview with C-Span, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission said that users of Google services face a "brutal" choice." The head of the French Data Protection Agency, on behalf of European privacy agencies, has warned that Google's proposed change violates European Union privacy law. She is reiterated the recommendation of Europe's Justice Minister that Google suspend the change. In Washington, DC, EPIC has filed an emergency appeal with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to force the FTC to enforce the 2011 consent order against Google. For more information, see EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • Pew Study: Social Media Users Active in Protecting Privacy » (Feb. 27, 2012)
    A Pew study found that users are becoming more active in managing their social media accounts. Compared to 2009, a higher percentage of users reported deleting people from their “friends” lists, deleting comments made by others on their profile, and removing their names from photos in which they were tagged. The report also found that women and young users were the most active in protecting their privacy. The Federal Trade Commission is currently finalizing a consent order with Facebook over charges that the company changed users' privacy settings to make personal information more available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. For more information, see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy, EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: Public Opinion and Privacy.
  • EPIC Appeals Court Ruling in Google Privacy Case » (Feb. 27, 2012)
    Within hours after a federal court in Washington, DC ruled that it could not require the Federal Trade Commission to enforce a consent order against Google, EPIC filed an emergency appeal with the Court Appeals for the DC Circuit. EPIC has asked the appellate court to overturn the lower court decision before March 1, when Google will change its terms of service and consolidate user data without consent. For more information, see EPIC - EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • Privacy Groups to Rep. Bono-Mack: "Hold *Public* Hearings on Google Privacy Changes" » (Feb. 24, 2012)
    Five privacy organizations, including EPIC, wrote today to Rep. Bono-Mack to urge the Chairwoman of a powerful Congressional committee to hold a public hearing on Google's proposed changes in business practices that will take effect March 1. Rep. Bono-Mack has held closed-door meetings with the Internet giant, but so far has scheduled no public hearings on the plan to consolidate user data, which EPIC alleges violates a 2011 Consent Order with the Federal Trade Commission. The consumer groups also asked the Congresswoman to urge Google to suspend its plan pending an investigation. They said there would be "overwhelming public support for this action" and cited recent statements from Members of Congress, Attorneys General, European Justice Officials, the President, technical experts, and IT managers in government and the private sector. For more information see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC.
  • Judge Rules that Courts Lacks Jurisdiction over FTC, Acknowledges "Serious Concerns" with Google Privacy Changes » (Feb. 24, 2012)
    A federal court today dismissed EPIC's lawsuit against the FTC, because the "decision to enforce the Consent Order is committed to agency discretion and is not subject to judicial review." However, the Judge also said "the Court has not reached the question of whether the new policies would violate the consent order or if they would be contrary to any other legal requirements." And she said "the FTC, which has advised the Court that the matter is under review, may ultimately decide to institute an enforcement action." EPIC will appeal the decision on judicial review, asking the DC federal appeals court to rule that courts can require federal agencies to enforce final orders. For more, see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • White House Sets Out Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights » (Feb. 23, 2012)
    The Obama Administration put forward a comprehensive privacy framework with principles designed to establish new safeguards for consumers and new responsibilities for companies that collect and use personal information. The principles include (1) individual control over the collection and use of personal data; (2) transparency; (3) respect for the context in which data is collected; (4) security; (5) access and correction rights for consumers; (6) data limitation; and (7) accountability. President Obama stated that "even though we live in a world in which we share personal information more freely than in the past, we must reject the conclusion that privacy is an outmoded value. It has been at the heart of our democracy from its inception, and we need it now more than ever." EPIC praised the framework and the President's support for privacy, and said that the challenge ahead would be implementation and enforcement. For more information, see EPIC: Commerce Department and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: White House - Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
  • EPIC Urges Federal Court To Hold FTC Accountable for Failure to Enforce Google Consent Order » (Feb. 21, 2012)
    In a reply brief filed today in Washington, DC, EPIC said that the Federal Trade Commission's failure to enforce the Consent Order against Google prior to March 1 would cause "irreparable injury." EPIC cited Google's plans to combine user data without consent, and pointed to numerous cases that establish the need for the Court to assess the FTC's failure to act. Dismissing arguments asserted by the government that "FTC enforcement decisions are not subject to judicial review," EPIC said that Congress has clearly told the Federal Trade Commission to enforce its final orders. And in response to a claim that EPIC's request for action by March 1 is "arbitrary," EPIC wrote "If the government is unaware that Google plans to make a substantial change in its business practices on March 1, 2012, it should turn on a computer connected to the Internet." For more information, see EPIC, EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • FTC Files Opposition / Motion to Dismiss in EPIC v FTC » (Feb. 17, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission today filed an opposition and a motion to dismiss in response to EPIC's complaint to compel the agency to enforce the October 2011 Consent Order against Google. The government stated that EPIC would "deprive the Commission of the discretion to exercise its enforcement authority." The government also charged that EPIC's lawsuit is "completely baseless." The papers were filed in federal District Court on the same day that the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had subverted the privacy settings of millions of users of the Internet browser software Safari. For more information see: EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • "FOIA Matters" - EPIC Obtains Google Privacy Compliance Report » (Feb. 17, 2012)
    As the result of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC has obtained a full copy of Google's first Privacy Compliance Report. Last year, spurred by a complaint pursued by EPIC, the FTC reached a settlement with Google and required the company to file regular reports with the Commission detailing its steps to comply with the Consent order. However, the report obtained by EPIC raises new questions about the company's efforts to safeguard user privacy. EPIC has recently filed a lawsuit against the FTC to compel the agency to enforce the Consent Order. For more information see: EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order) and EPIC: In re Google Buzz.
  • EPIC to FTC: Enforce the Google Consent Order » (Feb. 17, 2012)
    Today EPIC wrote to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to enforce the consent order with Google in light of a recent Wall Street Journal article based on research from Stanford's Jonathan Mayer that described how Google had been circumventing the privacy settings of Safari users despite Google's promise to respect such settings. EPIC said that Google "took elaborate measures to circumvent the Safari privacy safeguards, and it benefited from the misrepresentations by the commercial value it surreptitiously obtained." EPIC has filed a lawsuit to force the FTC to require Google to comply with the Consent Order to protect the privacy interests of Google users. The FTC's Response to the EPIC motion is due February 17; EPIC's reply is due February 21, 2012. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • FTC Report Shows Privacy Problems with Mobile Apps » (Feb. 16, 2012)
    The Federal Trade Commission issued a report today that found widespread failure among app stores and app developers to provide information to parents about the collection and use of children's data. The report noted that there are currently more than 500,000 apps in the Apple App Store and 380,000 in the Android Market, and that young children and teens are increasingly using smartphones for entertainment and educational purposes. The FTC report recommends that apps provide simple, short disclosures about their information collection and use practices, and that app stores assume greater role in providing information about the apps that they sell. EPIC previously submitted comments to the FTC on a proposed rule for the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. For more information, see EPIC: Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Google Report Raises New Questions About Compliance with Consent Order » (Feb. 10, 2012)
    The Google privacy compliance report, made public today, raises new questions about the company's failure to comply with an FTC Consent Order. The Order required Google to answer detailed questions about how it protects the personal information of Google users. But Google chose not to answer many of the questions. Most significantly, the company did not explain to the Commission the impact on user privacy of the proposed changes that will take place on March 1. EPIC has filed a lawsuit to force the Federal Trade Commission to require Google to comply with the Consent Order to protect the privacy interests of Google users. For more information, see EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order).
  • EPIC Sues Federal Trade Commission to Enforce Google Consent Order » (Feb. 8, 2012)
    EPIC today filed a Complaint and a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction in Federal District Court in Washington, DC. EPIC is seeking to compel the Federal Trade Commission to act prior to March 1, when Google plans to make changes in its terms of service that will make it possible for the company to combine user data without user consent. EPIC alleges that this change in business practice is in clear violation of the consent order that Google entered into on October 13, 2011. The consent order arises from a complaint that EPIC brought to the Commission in February, 2010 concerning Google Buzz and a similar attempt by Google to combine user data without user consent. For more information, see EPIC - In re Google Buzz, FTC - "FTC Charges Deceptive Privacy Practices in Google's Rollout of Its Buzz Social Network."
  • EPIC Seeks Public Release of Google's Privacy Report » (Feb. 1, 2012)
    EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Trade Commission for the Privacy Report that Google was recently required to submit to the agency. The Commission had previously investigated Google after EPIC filed a complaint regarding Google's Buzz product, which transformed private user contacts into publicly available social network data. Last fall the Commission reached a settlement with Google and, as a result, the company is subject to a consent order that requires it to file regular reports with the Commission. EPIC has requested that Google's first report, filed on January 26, 2012, be released to the public. Because of Google's plan to change its business practice on March 1, 2012, EPIC has asked the FTC to expedite the disclosure of the report. For more information see EPIC: In re Google Buzz.
  • EPIC Calls for Moratorium on Facial Recognition Technology » (Feb. 1, 2012)
    In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC today recommended the suspension of facial recognition technology deployment until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established. EPIC said that facial recognition is often used by strangers to determine a person's actual identity and that this poses a risk to privacy and personal security. EPIC also noted that some companies have adopted techniques that are more favorable to privacy as they allow users to control the image database while others undermine privacy, as the image database is centrally maintained. EPIC previously submitted a complaint to the FTC about Facebook's use of facial recognition technology to build a secret database of users' biometric data and allowing the company to automatically tag users in photos. The comments follow an FTC workshop exploring the privacy and security issues raised of facial recognition technology. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, EPIC: Face Recognition, and EPIC: Facebook and Face Recognition.
  • Google Changes Privacy Practices, Consolidates User Data » (Jan. 25, 2012)
    Google announced that it would begin combining data gathered on users of over 60 Google products and services, including Gmail, Google+, Youtube, and the Android mobile operating system. Previously, users could use one Google service, such as Google+, without having their information combined with that gathered from other services, such as Youtube. Users cannot opt out of having their data combined unless they avoid signing into their user accounts or stop using Google’s services altogether. Google’s changes come after the company began surfacing personal information from Google+ in Google search results, a move that EPIC said raised privacy and antitrust issues. In 2010, EPIC, along with other privacy groups, wrote a letter to Google over the company's decision to combine user data among 12 Google services. Google is subject to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that establishes new privacy safeguards for users of all Google products and services and subjects the company to regular privacy audits. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Google Search.
  • FTC Adds Google+ to Antitrust Investigation » (Jan. 13, 2012)
    Bloomberg News has reported that the Federal Trade Commission has expanded its antitrust investigation of Google to include Google's social networking service, Google+. The report comes after Google announced that it would include personal data gathered from Google+ in the results of users' searches, a move that led EPIC to urge the FTC to investigate the company. EPIC said that "Google's business practices raise concerns related to both competition and the implementation of the Commission’s consent order," referring to a settlement that the FTC reached with Google that establishes new privacy safeguards for users of all Google products and services and subjects the company to regular privacy audits. Google first confirmed the FTC’s antitrust investigation in June 2011. Recently, the Senate held a hearing on Google's use of its dominance in the search market to suppress competition, and EPIC urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google's use of Youtube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its own video content over non-Google content. For more information, see EPIC: Google/DoubleClick and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Urges FTC Investigation into Facebook Timeline » (Dec. 28, 2011)
    EPIC sent a letter requesting that the Federal Trade Commission determine whether changes Facebook has made to the profiles of its users are consistent with the terms of a settlement reached between Facebook and the FTC. EPIC's letter states that "with Timeline, Facebook has once again taken control over the user's data from the user and has now made information that was essentially archived and inaccessible widely available without the consent of the user." The settlement requires Facebook to give users clear and prominent notice and obtain users' express consent before changing their privacy settings. EPIC sent a similar letter to the FTC about Timeline and the secret tracking of users in September 2011. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • EPIC Submits Comments on FTC Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Dec. 28, 2011)
    EPIC submitted comments to the FTC on a proposed settlement with Facebook. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. The settlement bars Facebook from changing privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users or misrepresenting the privacy or security of users' personal information. However, EPIC said that the settlement is "insufficient to address the concerns originally identified by EPIC and the consumer coalition, as well as those findings established by the Commission." In order to address the issues raised by the complaints, respond to recent changes in Facebook's business practices like Timeline, and fulfill the FTC's duty to act in the public interest, EPIC recommended that the settlement be improved. Specifically, EPIC recommended that the FTC require Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; give users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; stop making facial recognition profiles without users' consent; make the results of the government privacy audits public; and stop secretly tracking users across the web. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, and EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • EPIC Submits Comments on Children's Online Privacy Rule » (Dec. 22, 2011)
    EPIC submitted comments to the FTC on a proposed rule for the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The proposed rule would revise the definition of Personally Identifiable Information to include identifiers such as cookies, IP addresses, and geolocation information. The new rules also contain data minimization and deletion requirements and simplified methods of obtaining parental consent for data collection. "The proposed revisions update the COPPA Rule by taking better account of the increased use of mobile devices by users and of new data collection practices by businesses," EPIC said. However, EPIC urged the FTC to further improve the rule by applying it to SMS and MMS messaging services, extending the definition of "personal information" to cover the combination of date of birth, gender, and ZIP code, and adding a data-breach notification requirement. EPIC previously testified before the Senate and filed comments with the agency. For more information, see EPIC: Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Sues DHS Over Covert Surveillance of Facebook and Twitter » (Dec. 20, 2011)
    EPIC has filed a Freedom of information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to force disclosure of the details of the agency's social network monitoring program. In news reports and a Federal Register notice, the DHS has stated that it will routinely monitor the public postings of users on Twitter and Facebook. The agency plans to create fictitious user accounts and scan posts of users for key terms. User data will be stored for five years and shared with other government agencies.The legal authority for the DHS program remains unclear. EPIC filed the lawsuit after the DHS failed to reply to an April 2011 FOIA request. For more information, see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Senate Opens Investigation Into Google Search » (Dec. 20, 2011)
    Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Mike Lee (R-UT), Chairman and Ranking member of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, have sent a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, expressing concern about Google's business practices and the company's impact on competition in Internet search and commerce. In September, EPIC wrote to the FTC and described how Google biased YouTube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its own content following the acquisition of the Internet's largest video service provider. The EPIC letter preceded a Senate hearing on "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?" EPIC testified before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee in 2007 on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services.
  • Facebook Timeline Changes User Privacy Settings. Again. » (Dec. 15, 2011)
    Without user consent, Facebook announced today that it would post archived user information, making old posts available under Facebook's current downgraded privacy settings. Users have just a week to clean up their history before Timeline goes live. The surprising announcement follows a recent decision by the Federal Trade Commission which found that the company had engaged in "unfair and deceptive" trade practices when it changed the privacy settings of its users. EPIC initiated that complaint and is now urging FB users to submit comments to strengthen the proposed settlement. For more information, see EPIC - In Re Facebook and EPIC - Facebook and Privacy.
  • EPIC Launches Campaign Urging Public Comment on Facebook Privacy Settlement » (Dec. 13, 2011)
    EPIC launched the "Fix FB Privacy Fail" campaign to encourage the public to support improvements to a settlement between Facebook and the FTC. The settlement follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 over Facebook’s decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information more widely available to the public and to Facebook's business partners. Although the proposed settlement is far-reaching, there are several ways in which it could be improved. EPIC has recommended that the FTC require Facebook to restore the privacy settings users had in 2009; give users access to all of the data that Facebook keeps about them; stop making facial recognition profiles without users' consent; make the results of the government privacy audits public; and stop secretly tracking users across the web. The period for public comment on the proposed settlement ends on December 30. The campaign also allows users to sign on to the petition without using Facebook. For more information, see EPIC: FTC Facebook Settlement.
  • Federal Trade Commission Releases 2011 Do Not Call List, Warns of Do Not Call Scams » (Dec. 5, 2011)
    The FTC has released the 2011 National Do Not Call Registry Data Book, which includes extensive information on the Do Not Call Registry as well as tips for consumers. Over 209 million telephone numbers are now listed on the Do Not Call Registry. In 2011, over 2 million consumers filed complaints over unwanted telemarketing calls. In announcing the Data Book, the FTC also warned consumers that scammers are calling consumers and claiming to sign them up for the National Do Not Call Registry. The FTC said that these calls were not coming from the Commission or the Registry, and that consumers should ignore them. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, or EPIC: Telemarketing and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
  • Federal Trade Commission Announces Settlement in EPIC Facebook Privacy Complaint » (Nov. 29, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission has announced an agreement with Facebook that follows from complaints filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the EPIC first asked the FTC to investigate Facebook's decision to change its users' privacy settings in a way that made users' personal information, such as Friend lists and application usage data, more widely available to the public and to Facebook’s business partners. The violations are also detailed in the FTC’s 8-count complaint against the company. The proposed settlement agreement bars Facebook from making future changes privacy settings without the affirmative consent of users and requires the company to implement a comprehensive privacy protection program and submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. The settlement does not adopt EPIC's recommendation that Facebook restore users' privacy settings to pre-2009 levels. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to the settlement in a post on Facebook's blog, saying that he was "first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes." For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Federal Trade Commission to Announce Settlement in EPIC Facebook Privacy Complaint » (Nov. 29, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission has scheduled a 1:00 pm EDT press conference to announce a privacy settlement with Facebook, following a complaint that was filed by EPIC and other consumer and privacy organizations. More news to follow.
  • FTC Releases Agenda for Facial Recognition Workshop » (Nov. 22, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission has announced the agenda and panelists for a workshop exploring the privacy and security issues raised by the increased use of facial recognition technology. The workshop will be held December 8, 2011 at the FTC Conference Center, and will feature diverse panelists with consumer protection, privacy, business, international, and academic backgrounds. EPIC Senior Counsel John Verdi will speak on the panel "Facial Detection & Recognition: Exploring the Policy Implications." EPIC has a complaint pending before the FTC over Facebook's use of facial recognition technology to build a secret database of users' biometric data and to enable the company to automatically tag users in photos. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Publishes Performance Report » (Nov. 22, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission has issued the 2011 Performance and Accountability Report. The report summarizes the agency’s accomplishments, shows how the agency has managed its resources, and explains how it plans to address future changes. According to the FTC, during 2011 the agency exceeded its privacy goals by providing 52 comments to foreign consumer protection and privacy agencies, conducting 14 technical assistance missions, and hosting one international consumer protection fellow. The agency’s privacy goals for the coming year include "issu[ing] a final report on protecting consumer privacy," and "examin[ing] malware and spyware threats to mobile devices . . . and malware distributed through social networks." The FTC report made no mention of several pending complaints, including EPIC's 2009 complaint regarding the changes by Facebook to its users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Facebook and Facial Recognition.
  • WSJ: Facebook Close to Settlement with FTC over EPIC Complaint » (Nov. 10, 2011)
    The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission is finalizing a settlement with Facebook that follows from a complaint from EPIC and a coalition of US consumer and privacy organizations. In 2009, the organizations urged the Commission to investigate Facebook's decision to change its users' privacy settings which made the personal information of Facebook users more widely available to Facebook's business partners and the public. According to the Wall Street Journal, the settlement would require Facebook to obtain "express affirmative consent" if Facebook makes "material retroactive changes," and to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Congress, #KWTK Presses Facebook to Disclose Secret Profiles » (Oct. 31, 2011)
    Lawmakers in Washington have sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, asking questions about the company's data retention practices, following a news report that a single European Facebook user obtained more than 1,200 pages of his own personal data from the company, including information that he had previously deleted. Following an effort of privacy advocates in Europe, EPIC has launched the KWTK (Know What They Know) campaign and is urging Facebook users to obtain their complete "data dossier" from the company. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC:#kwtk.
  • EPIC Files Complaint, Urges FTC to Investigate Verizon's Recent Changes to Privacy Practices » (Oct. 31, 2011)
    EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Verizon Wireless has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. After consumers entered into long-term contracts with Verizon Wireless, the company changed its business practices, and revealed detailed personal information of its customers, including location data, web browsing and search histories, and demographic data, to other companies EPIC also charges that Verizon Wireless has failed to establish adequate techniques to deidentify its customers. "Such practices are unfair and deceptive, contrary to the privacy and security interests of Verizon Wireless customers, and actionable by the Federal Trade Commission," the complaint states. EPIC's complaint regarding Facebook's facial recognition is still pending before the FTC.
  • Sen. Rockefeller Requests FTC Report on Facial Recognition Technology » (Oct. 20, 2011)
    Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) sent a letter requesting that the Federal Trade Commission assess the use of facial recognition technology and recommend legislation to protect privacy. Facial recognition technology is being used by technology firms and also police agencies, which has raised civil liberties concerns. The letter cited mobile applications such as SceneTap, which "tracks the male/female ratio and age mix of the crowd [in bars]" and digital advertising at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas that tailors ads to the person standing in front of the display based on recognition of that person’s age and gender. The FTC will hold a workshop on facial recognition technology on December 8, 2011. EPIC's complaint regarding Facebook's facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: Facial Recognition.
  • EPIC-Led Coalition Calls for FTC Facebook Investigation » (Sep. 29, 2011)
    EPIC, joined by other privacy, consumer, and civil liberties groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action, American Library Association, and the Center for Digital Democracy asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook. Facebook had been secretly tracking users after they logged off of Facebook’s webpage, and had recently announced changes in business practices that “[gave] the company far greater ability to disclose the personal information of its users to its business partners...” EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Lawmakers Say Undeletable Supercookies Raise "Serious Privacy Concerns" » (Sep. 27, 2011)
    Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote a letter asking the FTC to investigate whether the use of "supercookie" - cookies placed on users' computers by websites such as Hulu.com that cannot be deleted -constitutes an unfair or deceptive business practice. The representatives called this kind of tracking "unacceptable" and said that the cookies "take away consumer control over their own personal information." EPIC had earlier opposed the White House's use of persistent Google Analytics cookies that track users for up to two years and supported opt-in requirements for Internet tracking techniques that are transparent for the user and easily disabled. For more information, see EPIC: Cookies and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Senate Holds Hearing on Google’s Anticompetitive Practices » (Sep. 21, 2011)
    Today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?” examined Google’s use of its dominance in the search market to suppress competition. The company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, testified on the first panel, while witnesses from Google’s rivals Yelp and Nextag appeared on the second panel. The hearing covered a wide range of issues, including search bias, Google’s proprietary search algorithm, and the downgrading of search rankings. EPIC testified before the the same committee in 2009 on Google’s growing dominance of essential Internet services, and recently sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission regarding Google’s biasing of Youtube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its own video content. For more information, see EPIC: Google/DoubleClick and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Announces Workshop on Facial Recognition Technology » (Sep. 20, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host a workshop on December 8, 2011, on the privacy and security issues raised by the increasing use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology has been used by Facebook to build a secret data base of users’ biometric data and to enable Facebook to automatically tag users in photos. The Army has also used facial recognition technology to collect biometric data from Iraqi and Afghan civilians at checkpoints, workplaces, the sites of attacks, and door-to-door canvasses. EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch wrote to the US Secretary Defense in 2007 to warn that the system could lead to reprisals and further killings. Police agencies are also using facial recognition to identity political protesters. EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: Face Recognition, and EPIC: Iraqi Biometric Identification System.
  • Federal Trade Commission Proposes New Rules for Children’s Online Privacy » (Sep. 15, 2011)
    Today the FTC proposed new rules for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC rules would revise the definition of Personally Identifiable Information to include identifiers such as cookies and IP addresses, video and audio files containing a child's image or voice, and geolocation information. The new rules also contain data minimization and deletion requirements that promote Internet security, as well as simplified methods of obtaining parental consent for data collection, such as electronic submission and video verification. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said that the proposed rules were "a well-reasoned and innovative approach to online privacy." EPIC had previously testified before the Senate and submitted comments to the agency. EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: Children’s Online Privacy.
  • US and European Consumer Groups Oppose Latest Industry Proposal for Self-Regulation » (Sep. 9, 2011)
    The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue has sent a letter to U.S. and European Union officials, urging them to reject an advertising industry proposal to protect online privacy through self-regulation. The industry proposal relies on opt-out techniques that force consumers to click on small icons, hidden on the websites they visit. The TACD letter described the icon regime as “inadequate,” and said that it “is an insufficient means of [giving] notice to a user about the wide range of data collection that they routinely face.” In 1998, EPIC conducted the first evaluation of industry self-regulation to protect online privacy and concluded that "Notice is Not Enough." For more information, see EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling, and EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Examine YouTube Search Rankings Following Google Acquisition » (Sep. 8, 2011)
    EPIC sent a letter to the FTC urging the Trade Commission to investigate the extent to which Google has used its dominance in the search market to influence the marketplace of online video content. EPIC pointed specifically to the Google acquisition of YouTube and the change in the YouTube search rankings that followed. EPIC said that Google substituted its own subjective, "relevance" ranking in place of objective search criteria, such as "Hits" or "Rankings," to preference Google's own video material over non-Google material. EPIC's letter includes detailed examples using the search term "privacy." Google has acknowledged that the Commission has opened an investigation into the company's business practices for possible antitrust violations. EPIC previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services. For more information, see EPIC: Google/DoubleClick and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook Makes Some Changes, Privacy Complaints Still Pending » (Aug. 29, 2011)
    In response to several complaints filed by EPIC with the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook announced that it would make some changes in its business practices, including providing more accurate information about the disclosure of user data to others and new safeguards for photo tagging. EPIC, along with several privacy organizations, filed several complaints with the FTC about FB's automated tagging of users, changes in Privacy settings, and transfers of personal data, stating that Facebook's practices were "unfair and deceptive." Facebook's recent actions address some but not all of the issues raised by the consumer organizations. The complaint at the FTC are still pending. For more information see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC Settles Street View Case with Trade Commission » (Aug. 26, 2011)
    EPIC and the Federal Trade Commission have agreed to settle an open government lawsuit concerning the FTC's decision to close the investigation of Google Street View. EPIC sought documents from the Commission after Members of Congress had urged the agency to pursue an aggressive investigation and many privacy agencies around the world found that Google violated national privacy laws. The agency turned over to EPIC agency records which suggested that the agency believed it lacked enforcement authority. However, the closing letter in the case also indicated that the Commission never undertook an independent investigation to determine whether other violations of law may have occurred. The case is EPIC v. FTC, No. 11-cv-00881 (D.C. Dist. Ct 2011). For more information, see EPIC: Google Street View.
  • FTC Finds Mobile Phone App Violated Children's Privacy Law » (Aug. 16, 2011)
    W3 Innovations, a company that develops mobile phone games, settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission for violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In the first settlement concerning a mobile application, the Commission imposed a fine of $50,000 against the company for "illegally collecting and disclosing personal information from tens of thousands of children under age 13 without their parents prior consent." EPIC previously testified before the Senate Commerce Committee and submitted comments to the FTC on the need to update COPPA and to clarify the law's application to mobile and social networking services. EPIC also has pending complaints at the FTC regarding Facebook's facial recognition program and changes Facebook made to user privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: COPPA.
  • Facebook Makes Changes to Facial Recognition; Still Relying on Opt-Out » (Jul. 27, 2011)
    In response to a letter from the Connecticut Attorney General, Facebook agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show them how to opt-out of Facebook's facial recognition program. The ads are new, but Facebook has failed to implement an opt-in model for its facial recognition technology. EPIC, along with several other organizations, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding biometric data collection. EPIC urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program pending a full investigation. EPIC also urged the Commission to require Facebook to establish stronger privacy safeguards and an opt-in regime for the facial recognition scheme. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook and the Facial Identification of Users.
  • Federal Trade Commission Launches Google Antitrust Investigation » (Jun. 27, 2011)
    Google has acknowledged that the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into the search company's business practices for possible antitrust violations. The investigation likely focuses on whether Google uses its dominance in the search field to inhibit competition in other areas. EPIC had previously opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which was approved by the FTC over the objection of then Commissioner Pamela Harbor. EPIC later testified before the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services. For more information, see EPIC: Google/DoubleClick and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Congressman Markey Commends EPIC, Privacy Groups for Filing Facebook Complaint » (Jun. 14, 2011)
    Congressman Ed Markey today expressed support for the complaint filed last week by EPIC and privacy groups concerning Facebook's new scheme for online tagging. In a published statement, Congressman Markey said, "The Federal Trade Commission should investigate this important privacy matter, and I commend the consumer groups for their filing. When it comes to users’ privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: 'Ask for permission, don’t assume it.' Rather than facial recognition, there should be a Facebook recognition that changing privacy settings without permission is wrong. I encourage the FTC to probe this issue and will continue to closely monitor this issue." EPIC and consumer groups now have several complaints regarding Facebook pending at the FTC. For more information, see EPIC - In re Facebook and EPIC - In re Facebook II, and EPIC - Facebook and Privacy.
  • EPIC Files Complaint, Urges Investigation of Facebook's Facial Recognition Techniques » (Jun. 10, 2011)
    Today EPIC, and several privacy organizations, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about Facebook's automated tagging of Facebook users. EPIC alleged that the service was unfair and deceptive and urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program, pending a full investigation, the establishment of stronger privacy standards, and a requirement that automated identification, based on user photos, require opt-in consent. EPIC alleged that "Users could not reasonably have known that Facebook would use their photos to build a biometric database in order to implement a facial recognition technology under the control of Facebook." EPIC warned that "absent injunctive relief by the Commission, Facebook will likely expand the use of the facial recognition database it has covertly established for purposes over which Facebook users will be able to exercise no meaningful control." EPIC has previously filed two complaints with the Commission regarding Facebook. For more information see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • FCC and FTC Announce Public Meeting on Locational Privacy » (May. 25, 2011)
    The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission will co-host a Location Based Services Forum on June 28, 2011. The event will include representatives from industry, consumer advocacy groups, and academia discussing the benefits and risks of location based services and industry best practices. The agencies are calling for public comment on location based services. EPIC previously submitted comments to the FCC on locational privacy in 2001 and 2006, requesting that the Commission establish guidelines for the protection of users' locational privacy. In 2010, EPIC specifically warned two Congressional committees about the privacy risks of location services in mobile phones. For more information, see EPIC: Locational Privacy.
  • EPIC Briefing to Explore Google Street View and Wi-Fi Privacy » (May. 17, 2011)
    EPIC will host a Capitol Briefing on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 on "Street View, Privacy, & the Security of Wireless Networks." The luncheon symposium will feature a panel with FTC Director of Consumer Protection David Vladeck and Former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbour, and other experts. Sky Hook CEO Ted Morgan will demonstrate Wi-Fi scanning. Many countries have launched investigations of Google Street View after investigators found that Google unlawfully collected Wi-Fi data and intercepted private communications traffic. EPIC has recommended that the US FCC undertake an investigation. The Briefing will be held at the Capitol Visitor’s Center in room HVC-201 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. Registration information. For More Information, see EPIC: Street View and EPIC: FTC and follow #wifiprivacy.
  • EPIC Sues Federal Trade Commission for Details on Spy-Fi Investigation » (May. 12, 2011)
    EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission over the agency's failure to disclose to EPIC information about the FTC's decision to end the Google Spy-Fi investigation. EPIC is specifically seeking documents that the FTC widely circulated to members of Congress and their staff that provide the basis for the agency's decision. Privacy agencies around the world found that Google unlawfully intercepted private communications traffic. Yet documents obtained earlier by EPIC under the FOIA suggest that the FTC did not even examine the data Google gathered from private residential Wi-Fi routers in the United States. EPIC is hosting a Capitol Briefing on May 18th on "Street View, Privacy, and the Security of Wireless Networks." For more information, see EPIC: Street View and EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC Proposes "Fair Information Practices" for Google » (May. 3, 2011)
    Today EPIC submitted detailed comments on a landmark privacy agreement that requires Google to adopt a "Comprehensive Privacy Plan" to safeguard the privacy and personal information of Internet users. In comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC recommended that the FTC require Google to adopt and implement comprehensive Fair Information Practices, as part of the Privacy Program. EPIC also recommended encryption for Google's cloud-based services, new safeguards for reader privacy, limitations on data collection, and warrant requirements for data disclosures to government officials. EPIC said that similar privacy safeguards should be established for other Internet companies. The FTC investigation and settlement arises from a complaint filed by EPIC with the Commission in February 2010. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google Buzz and FTC - Public Comments on In Re Google.
  • Public Submits Comments on Proposed Google Consent Order » (May. 2, 2011)
    Today marks the end of the public comment period for the Federal Trade Commission's landmark Consent Order with Google regarding Buzz, Gmail, and all Google products and services. As part of the legal order, Google must adopt a "Comprehensive Privacy Plan" to safeguard its users data and personal information. EPIC launched an online petition and a "Fix Google Privacy" page to promote public participation in the FTC's deliberations. The FTC's action against Google follows a Complaint and an Amended Complaint, filed by EPIC on behalf of Gmail subscribers and other users. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google Buzz.
  • Senators Kerry and McCain introduce Internet Privacy Legislation » (Apr. 12, 2011)
    Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) have introduced the "Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011," aimed at protecting consumers' privacy both online and offline. The Bill endorses several "Fair Information Practices," gives consumers the ability to opt-out of data disclosures to third-parties, and restricts the sharing of sensitive information. But the Bill does not allow for a private right of action, preempts better state privacy laws, and includes a "Safe Harbor" arrangement that exempts companies from significant privacy requirements. EPIC has supported privacy laws that provide meaningful enforcement, limit the ability of companies' to exploit loopholes for behavioral targeting, and ensure that the Federal Trade Commission can investigate and prosecute unfair and deceptive trade practices, as it did with Google Buzz. For more information, see EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Launches "Fix Google Privacy" Campaign » (Apr. 5, 2011)
    In response to the recent announcement that Google has agreed to adopt a "Comprehensive Privacy Plan," EPIC has launched "Fix Google Privacy," a campaign to encourage Internet users to offer their suggestions to improve safeguards for Google's products and services. Submissions to EPIC will be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission and considered by the agency as part of the final Privacy Plan. All comments must be sent before May 2, 2011. For more information, see EPIC - In Re Google Buzz and FTC - Analysis to Aid Public Comments.
  • FTC Releases Annual Report, Highlights Consumer Protection » (Apr. 1, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission released the 2011 Annual Report, which emphasized the agency's actions in the consumer protection and anti-trust areas. The agency highlighted its work on privacy, data security, and technology and noted the settlement of several privacy cases, including Echometrix, Lifelock, Twitter, and U.S. Search. EPIC filed a complaint with the Commission concerning Echometrix, and still has complaints pending regarding changes in Facebook's privacy settings and Google cloud computing. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • FTC Announces Agreement in EPIC Google Buzz Complaint » (Mar. 30, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission has reached a agreement with Google regarding Buzz, the social network service launched in early 2010. The FTC action follows a complaint and an amended complaint filed by EPIC on behalf of Gmail subscribers and other Internet users. The FTC agreement with Google is far-reaching. It is the most significant privacy decision by the Commission to date. For Internet users, it should lead to higher privacy standards and better protection for personal data. EPIC has pursued similar successful complaints at the FTC in the past, including Microsoft Passport and Choicepoint, the databroker firm. For more information, see EPIC - In re Google Buzz.
  • Senate Antitrust Agenda Includes Google, FTC Oversight » (Mar. 14, 2011)
    Senator Kohl (D-WI) has announced the agenda for the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. Among other issues, the Subcommittee will focus on competition in online markets and internet search, as well as oversight of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. EPIC had opposed Google's acquisition of online advertiser Doubleclick, which was approved by the FTC over the objection of former FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbor. EPIC later testified before the Antitrust committee on Google's growing dominance of essential Internet services. For more information, see EPIC: Google/DoubleClick and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook Resumes Plan to Disclose User Home Addresses and Mobile Phone Numbers » (Mar. 2, 2011)
    Facebook indicated in a letter to Rep. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Barton (R-TX) that it will go forward with a proposal to provide users' addresses and mobile phone numbers to third-party application developers. The Congressman earlier expressed concern about the proposal. Facebook also wrote that it may disclose the home addresses and mobile numbers of minors who use the social networking service. Facebook suspended the plan after EPIC and others objected. EPIC and several consumer organizations have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC Says FTC Has Failed to Safeguard Consumer Privacy » (Feb. 18, 2011)
    In response to a request for comments on an FTC report on future action, EPIC criticized the Commission for failing to act on numerous privacy complaints currently pending before the Commission, including those involving Facebook privacy settings, Google Buzz, and Cloud Computing Services. EPIC recommended a comprehensive federal privacy law based on Fair Information Practices, support for Privacy Enhancing Technologies, and the establishment of an independent privacy agency.  The FTC report recommended the creation of a Do Not Track mechanism, the adoption of "privacy by design" techniques, and the use of simplified consumer privacy notices. For more information, see EPIC - Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Pursues Investigation of FTC's Spy-Fi Noninvestigation » (Feb. 11, 2011)
    EPIC has filed an administrative appeal with the Federal Trade Commission, challenging the agency's failure to disclose to information about the FTC's decision to end the Google Spy-Fi investigation. EPIC is specifically seeking a slide presentation that the FTC provided to Congress about the matter. The agency has claimed that the presentation to Congress is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Privacy agencies around the world found that Google intercepted private communications traffic. Yet documents obtained earlier by EPIC under the FOIA suggest that the FTC did not even examine the data Google gathered from private residential wifi routers in the US. For more information, see Google: Street View.
  • Facebook Enables Full-Session Encryption » (Feb. 7, 2011)
    Facebook will now allow full-session HTTPS. The switch to encrypted cloud-based computing promotes privacy and security, particularly when users access Facebook from public Internet access points. Previously, Facebook only used HTTPS when users’ passwords were being sent to the site. Third party applications currently do not support HTTPS. Users can opt into HTTPS through their “Account Settings;” however, HTTPS is not yet the default. Facebook will use "social authentication, rather than traditional CAPTCHA," to deter hackers. EPIC has previously recommended the adoption of strong privacy techniques for cloud-based services. In 2009, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, urging an investigation into Google’s cloud computing services to determine the adequacy of privacy and security safeguards. Google subsequently established HTTPS by default for Gmail. For related information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: Cloud Computing, and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Congressman Barton and Markey Challenge Facebook on Disclosure of Home Addresses, Mobile Phone Numbers » (Feb. 2, 2011)
    A letter from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to Mark Zuckerberg asks about Facebook's plans to make users' addresses and mobile phone numbers available to websites and application developers. Facebook suspended the plan after EPIC and others objected. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said that "Facebook is trying to blur the line between public and private information. And the request for permission does not make clear to the user why the information is needed or how it will be used." EPIC, and several consumer organizations, have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Federal Trade Commission Extends Deadline for Comments on Privacy Report » (Jan. 24, 2011)
    To provide business groups more time to express their views on consumer privacy, the FTC has extended the deadline for submitting comments on the agency's Internet privacy report to February 18th. The preliminary staff report "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: a Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policy Makers" recommends the creation of a Do Not Track mechanism, the adoption of "privacy by design" techniques, and the use of simplified consumer privacy notices. However, the FTC's report did not address the privacy implications of cloud computing and social networking, the need for a US privacy agency, or a comprehensive federal privacy law based on "Fair Information Practices," as privacy groups had urged. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission and EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling.
  • FTC: Investigating Google Street View is a "waste of summer" » (Jan. 20, 2011)
    In documents obtained by EPIC through a Freedom of Information Act request, a senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission describes the Google WiFi investigation as a "wasted summer" and hopes that a Hill briefing on Google WiFi "won't be too much of a time suck." EPIC sought these documents after the FTC dropped its investigation of Google Streetview. Several countries, including the U.K., Germany, Spain, and Canada, have conducted similar investigations and determined that Google violated their privacy laws. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission opened an investigation after EPIC filed a complaint, asking the Commission to investigate violations of US wiretap law and the Communications Act. For more information, see EPIC: Google Street View.
  • Facebook Drops Plan to Disclose Users' Home Addresses and Personal Phone Numbers » (Jan. 18, 2011)
    Facebook has retreated from its decision to allow third-party access to users home addresses and phone numbers. Facebook backed off after criticism of the new policy, but said it would go forward once it has made further changes. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said "Facebook is trying to blur the line between public and private information. And the request for permission does not make clear to the user why the information is needed or how it will be used." EPIC, and several consumer organizations, have complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's earlier changes to users' privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Federal Trade Commission Recommends Do Not Track, Privacy by Design, and Short Privacy Notices » (Dec. 2, 2010)
    The Federal Trade Commission released a preliminary staff report on privacy, following a series of public roundtable discussions. The report recommends the establishment of a Do Not Track mechanism, the adoption of a "privacy by design" techniques, and the use of simplified consumer privacy notices. However, the FTC report did not address the privacy implications of cloud computing and social networking, the need for a US privacy agency, or a comprehensive federal privacy law based on "Fair Information Practices," as privacy groups had urged. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Wall Street Journal Confirms FCC Investigation of Google Street View Following EPIC Complaint » (Nov. 10, 2010)
    The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Federal Communications Commission has opened an investigation into Google's secretive interception and collection of wifi data collection. This occurred in thirty countries over a three year period and is linked to Google "Street View" vehicles which many thought simply captured digital images. In May, EPIC filed a complaint with the Commission, asking it to investigate Google's possible violations of federal wiretap law and the U.S. Communications Act. Investigations in other countries have revealed that Google secretly collected passwords, email, and sensitive medical data from millions of Internet users, and also built an extensive database of personal information associated with private residential wifi routers. The Federal Trade Commission recently ended its inquiry into Google Street View, even though members of Congress had urged a comprehensive investigation. For more information, see EPIC - Investigation of Google Street View.
  • FTC Appoints Executive Director, Chief Technology Officer » (Nov. 9, 2010)
    The Federal Trade Commission has announced that Eileen Harrington will be rejoining the Commission as the Executive Director. Harrington was recently the Chief Operating Officer at the U.S. Small Business Administration, following a 25-year stint at the Commission in a variety of positions. The Commission has also announced that Princeton University professor Dr. Edward W. Felton has been named as Chief Technologist, a new position that will focus on evolving technology and policy issues. Dr. Felten was the founding director for Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • Federal Trade Commission Closes Noninvestigation of Google Street View » (Oct. 27, 2010)
    The Federal Trade Commission has sent a letter to Google, ending an investigation that never began. In May, the Federal Trade Commission was asked by members of Congress to investigate Google's secretive collection of wifi data as part of Street View, a mapping program characterized by the collection of digital imagery. In a letter to Federal Communications Commission, EPIC further explained that Google's conduct likely violated federal wiretap law. Subsequent investigations in other countries revealed that Google secretly collected passwords, email, and sensitive medical data from millions of Internet users, and also built an extensive database of personal information associated with private residential wifi routers. However, the Federal Trade Commission never pursued an independent investigation of Street View, examined the data collected by Google in the United States, or even acknowledged the findings of other agencies. Investigations are still pending in several countries and 37 states in the U.S. For more information, see EPIC: Google Street View.
  • FTC Proposes Consent Decree in U.S. Search Case » (Oct. 20, 2010)
    The FTC is asking for comments on a proposed settlement of the agency's complaint against the company U.S. Search for deceptive practices. U.S. Search sold customers a "privacy lock" service that the company falsely claimed would prevent customers' personal information from appearing on the U.S. Search website. The proposed settlement requires U.S. Search to refund fees and bars the company from further deceptive practices, but does not stop them from charging a fee for an opt-out service. For more information, see EPIC: FTC.
  • Congressmen Question Facebook About Latest Privacy Breach » (Oct. 20, 2010)
    Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter to Facebook about the news that Facebook's business partners transmitted personal user data to advertising and internet tracking companies in violation of the company's policy. EPIC has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission regarding Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC: In Re Facebook, EPIC: In Re Facebook II, and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Facebook Uses RFID to Track Users' Locations for Advertising Promotion » (Aug. 25, 2010)
    At the Coca-Cola Village Amusement Park in Israel, visitors were recently issued bracelets with RFID chips that linked to their Facebook accounts, according to Adland. RFID readers scattered throughout the park updated the users' Facebook pages when the bracelets were scanned. On-site photographers also posted photos that were automatically tagged with the users' identities. Facebook had previously tested the use of RFID for location tracking at the f8 Developer Conference in April. Facebook has also just launched Places, which is designed to make users' location information widely available. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Facebook Places.
  • Facebook "Places" Embeds Privacy Risks, Complicated and Ephemeral Opt-Out Unfair to Users » (Aug. 19, 2010)
    The recently announced Facebook service Places makes user location data routinely available to others, including Facebook business partners, regardless of whether users wish to disclose their location. There is no single opt-out to avoid location tracking; users must change several different privacy settings to restore their privacy status quo. For users who do not want location information revealed to others, EPIC recommends that Facebook users: (1) disable "Friends can check me in to Places," (2) customize "Places I Check In," (3) disable "People Here Now," and (4) uncheck "Places I've Visited." EPIC, joined by many consumer and privacy organizations, has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices, which are frequently associated with new product announcements. For more information, see EPIC In Re Facebook, EPIC In Re Facebook II, and EPIC Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC to Urge Congress to Strengthen Privacy Laws for Facebook Users » (Jul. 28, 2010)
    In prepared testimony (PDF) for a Congressional hearing on "Online Privacy, Social Networking and Crime Vicitimization," EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg urged lawmakers to update federal law to protect the privacy of Facebook users. Mr. Rotenberg said that Facebook's constant changes to the privacy settings of users have made it virtually impossible for users to control who gets access to their personal information. He also said that the failure of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook's business practices means that Congress must now amend the federal privacy law to limit the ability of Social Network companies to disclose user information to third parties without informed and explicit consent. Also testifying at the hearing are witnesses from the FBI, the Secret Service, Symantec, and Facebook. For more information, see EPIC Social Networking Privacy, EPIC Facebook, and EPIC In re Google Buzz.
  • Facebook Scores Low on Consumer Satisfaction » (Jul. 22, 2010)
    In a recent study by Foresee Results and the University of Michigan, Facebook has scored extremely low in the area of customer satisfaction. The 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index E-Business Report included social networking companies for the first time, and Facebook scored a 64, putting it "in the bottom 5% of all measured private sector companies and in the same range as airlines and cable companies." The polling company attributed Facebook's low scores to "privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website, and commercialization and advertising." For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Public Opinion on Privacy.
  • EPIC Urges Federal Trade Commission to Strengthen Childrens' Privacy Rule » (Jul. 9, 2010)
    EPIC filed comments urging the Federal Trade Commission to improve the Childrens' Online Privacy Protection Act Rule. The rule is the principal federal protection for childrens' privacy, and limits how companies may collect and disclose childrens' personal information. "The need for the COPPA Rule has become increasingly urgent in light of new business practices and recent technological developments, such as social networking sites and mobile devices," EPIC wrote. "Existing provisions need to be strengthened and new provisions need to be added." In April, EPIC testified before Congress concerning childrens' privacy. For more, see EPIC: COPPA and EPIC: FTC.
  • Federal Trade Commission Takes Action Against Twitter, Social Network Service Settles Charges It Deceived Consumers » (Jun. 24, 2010)
    The FTC announced a significant enforcement action today. The Commission's complaint against Twitter charged that "serious lapses in the company's data security allowed hackers to obtain administrative control of Twitter." The FTC found that the lax practices allowed access to nonpublic tweets even though the company assured users in its privacy policy that it was "very concerned about safeguarding the confidentiality of your personally identifiable information." Under the terms of the settlement, "Twitter will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it maintains and protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information." EPIC has two complaints currently pending at the FTC concerning similar practices by Facebook, another social networking service. For more information, see EPIC - Facebook Privacy, EPIC - In re Facebook I, and EPIC - In re Facebook II.
  • Privacy Conference Attendees Set Out Social Networking Bill of Rights » (Jun. 23, 2010)
    Participants at the 2010 Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy have prepared a Social Network Users' Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights sets out principles for providers of  social network services, including clarity of policies, empowerment of users, freedom of speech, data minimization, and user control. For more information, follow #billofrights and see EPIC: Social Networking Privacy and EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC, Privacy Groups Recommend Further Changes for Facebook » (Jun. 16, 2010)
    EPIC has joined a letter, organized by the ACLU of Northern California, calling for Facebook to fix ongoing privacy problems with the social network service. The letter, signed by several privacy organizations, recommends that Facebook make "Instant Personalization" opt-in, limit data retention, give users greater control over their information, and allow users to export their content from Facebook. EPIC has a complaint currently pending at the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy.
  • Privacy Issue Attracts Fire in California Attorney General Race » (Jun. 7, 2010)
    Facebook privacy has become a hot topic in the California race for Attorney General. In the Democratic primary, Kamala Harris has attacked former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly over the company's privacy practices. But Kelley has recently criticized some of the Facebook changes and said that "instant personalization" should be opt-in. Kelly has also supported a Moveon Facebook campaign though some bloggers have doubts. During the last election cycle, EPIC launched PRIVACY08 to encourage candidates to debate privacy issues. Also see EPIC Facebook Privacy.
  • Congress Pursues Investigation of Google and Facebook's Business Practices » (Jun. 1, 2010)
    Following similar letters from other Congressional leaders, the head of the House Judiciary Committee has asked Google Inc. and Facebook to cooperate with government inquiries into privacy practices at both companies. Rep. Conyers (D-MI) noted that Google's collection of user data "may be the subject of federal and state investigations" and asked Google to retain the data until "such time as review of this matter is complete." Rep. Conyers also asked Facebook to provide a detailed explanation regarding its collection and sharing of user information. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings on electronic privacy later this year. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: In re Facebook II, and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
  • Congressional Leaders Write to Google's Schmidt About "Spy-Fi" » (May. 26, 2010)
    Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA), Joe Barton (R-TX), and Ed Markey (D-MA) have sent a detailed letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt about the reports that Google Street View vehicles scarfed up Wi-Fi data in thirty countries, including the United States. The letter follows a complaint that EPIC has sent to the Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, suggesting that Google may have violated federal wiretap laws. For more information, see Congress Urges FTC to Investigate Google.
  • Facebook Expected to Announce Privacy Changes » (May. 25, 2010)
    Following a recent column in the Washington Post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company is expected to announce new, simplified privacy settings this week.  EPIC objected to the last several rounds of changes that Facebook made, filing a complaint with the FTC in December when the company reclassified much of users' data as "publicly available information," a supplement to that complaint in January, and another complaint this month when Facebook forced users' profile information to become publicly available links instead of private data.  For more information, see EPIC: Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: In re Facebook II.
  • New Facebook Privacy Complaint Filed with Trade Commission » (May. 5, 2010)
    Today, EPIC and 14 privacy and consumer protection organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent "violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations." The complaint also cites widespread opposition from Facebook users, Senators, bloggers, and news organizations. In a letter to Congress, EPIC urged the Senate and House Committees with jurisdiction over the FTC to monitor closely the Commission's investigation. The letter noted the FTC's failure to act on several pending consumer privacy complaints. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Senators Oppose Facebook Changes, Schumer Urges Trade Commission to Regulate Social Network Services » (Apr. 27, 2010)
    Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Al Franken (D-MI) have sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to express concern about "recent changes to the Facebook privacy policy and the use of personal data by third-party websites." Senator Schumer has also asked the Federal Trade Commission to establish guidelines for social networking sites. The Senators' statements came after Facebook announced it would disclose user data to websites without consent. Senator Schumer stated "Previously, users had the ability to determine what information they chose to share and what information they wanted to keep private." EPIC has filed a complaint and with the FTC about the recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • Facebook's Data Grab: New Policies Transfer Control of User Data to Facebook » (Apr. 22, 2010)
    Facebook announced significant changes at F8 this week that will integrate Facebook with many web sites, but also make it more difficult for Facebook users to limit the disclosure of personal information. The announcement follows recent changes to Facebook privacy settings and privacy policies. "Instant personalization" will give Facebook's business partners access to users' likes, interests, friends, and other details, unless users opt-out. Facebook has also removed a key privacy safeguard and will allow third parties to store user data indefinitely. EPIC has a complaint pending at the FTC concerning recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC's Previous FTC Complaint regarding Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • Facebook Announces Changes to Privacy Policy. Again. » (Mar. 26, 2010)
    Faceboook has announced "another set of revisions" to its privacy policy. The changes appear to make it easier for Facebook to gather locational data on users and to disclose user data to third-party web sites. It also appears that Facebook will make more use of data set to "Everyone." Facebook is soliciting comments on the changes. In December, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC regarding the last series of changes to the Facebook privacy settings. EPIC, joined by nine other privacy and consumer organizations, said that the "changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations." The FTC responded that the EPIC complaint "raises issues of paricular interest" to the Commission. For more information on the ever-changing Facebook privacy policy, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC In re Facebook.
  • EPIC Recommends Effective Consumer Privacy Standards, Calls Notice and Choice a "Failed Experiment" » (Mar. 17, 2010)
    At the third FTC Privacy Roundtable, EPIC senior counsel John Verdi will recommend that the Commission push forward with effective and meaningful privacy safeguards for American consumers. Mr. Verdi will say that the "notice and choice" approach has failed, and will recommend that the FTC enforce Fair Information Practices, such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines. The discussion can be viewed via webcast. Additional information on the FTC roundtable event can be found here. For more information, see EPIC In re Google Buzz, EPIC In re Facebook, and EPIC In re Google and Cloud Computing.
  • Senate Confirms Julie Brill as FTC Commissioner » (Mar. 4, 2010)
    The Senate confirmed Julie Brill, former Vermont Assistant Attorney General, to fill a vacancy for FTC Commissioner. Brill served for over 20 years as Vermont’s Assistant Attorney General for Consumer Protection and Antitrust, and currently serves as Senior Deputy Attorney General and Chief of Consumer Protection and Antitrust for the North Carolina Department of Justice. Brill has had experience with several important consumer protection issues, including tobacco, food and drug, antitrust, and privacy and identity theft. Senator Leahy (D-VT) expressed support for Brill’s confirmation, proclaiming, “We again have an FTC that is on the side of the consumers. Julie Brill will help revitalize an FTC that has languished while consumers’ interests have given way to special interests.”
  • Judge Waits to Decide on Proposed Settlement in Facebook Privacy Case » (Mar. 1, 2010)
    Following a hearing last week, U.S. District Court Judge Seeborg reserved decision about the approval of Facebook’s proposed 9.5 million dollar settlement in a case involving Facebook Beacon. According to the settlement terms, Facebook would contribute about $6 million to the establishment of a privacy organization. Facebook, however, would maintain control over this organization, as Facebook's top lobbyist would become co-President and all significant decisions would require a unanimous vote. EPIC and several other privacy organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, have written a letter to Judge Seeborg, ask him to reject the settlement as proposed. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • Study Ranks Top 20 Companies for Privacy in 2010, Facebook Drops Off List » (Feb. 26, 2010)
    Ponemon Institute released its annual study identifying the top twenty companies that are most trusted for privacy. American Express was ranked first, earning the Most Trusted for Privacy distinction for the fifth year in a row. Facebook suffered several privacy missteps over the last year, including a recent change in privacy settings at the end of 2009, and as a result, failed to make the 2010 list. Google, however, returned to the Top 20, ranked at 13. The survey also produced significant findings regarding consumer attitudes towards privacy, including the finding that consumers feel they are losing control over their personal information. Further, the responses revealed that consumers’ fear of identity theft is the main factor for brand trust diminishment, while a company’s implementation of privacy features contribute to brand trust. Other significant positive factors were limits on the collection of personal information and online anonymity.
  • Federal Trade Commission Sets out Priorities But Lacks Strategy for Privacy Protection » (Feb. 4, 2010)
    The Federal Trade Commission released the Congressional budget justification summary for FY 2011 and performance plan for FY 2010-11. The FTC documents list three strategic goals: protect consumers, maintain competition, and advance performance. Objectives include improving consumer education, identifying and stopping “fraud, deception and unfair practices,” and “protecting American consumers in the global marketplace.” Although the FTC Implementation Plan includes the development of approaches to implement OECD Guidelines on consumer protection in the context of electronic commerce, there is no mention of implementing OECD Guidelines on privacy protection
  • Facebook Users Object to Beacon Settlement » (Feb. 2, 2010)
    Facebook users filed papers in federal court objecting to a proposed deal that would extinguish the company's liability for disclosing personal information in violation of federal law. Users criticized the class action settlement, stating "the class receives no meaningful relief." Other objectors alleged "in effect, Facebook is paying itself the benefit but class members are releasing their individual privacy claims." EPIC previously submitted a letter to the judge hearing the case. EPIC's letter opposes the settlement and proposes alternatives that would enable stronger privacy safeguards for Facebook users in the future. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Users' Privacy On Cloud Computing and Social Networking Services » (Jan. 28, 2010)
    EPIC submitted comments to the FTC prior to the agency’s second privacy roundtable. EPIC warned of the ongoing privacy risks associated with cloud computing and social networking privacy, highlighting the Google cloud computing complaint and Facebook privacy complaint filed by EPIC in 2009. The comments note that the FTC has failed to take any meaningful action with respect to either complaint, demonstrating the Commission's “lack of leadership and technical expertise.” EPIC's comments also draw attention to the success of international privacy initiatives, in hopes of encouraging the FTC to take meaningful action to protect American consumers. For more information, see EPIC: Cloud Computing and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • EPIC, Privacy Groups Oppose Facebook Settlement » (Jan. 19, 2010)
    EPIC and other privacy groups sent a letter to the federal judge overseeing a class-action settlement against Facebook in California, opposing the settlement as unfair and unreasonable. As proposed, the settlement does not provide any benefit for Facebook users whose private data was illegally exposed by Facebook "Beacon." Instead, the deal would create a new "privacy foundation" subject to Facebook's influence. Fair settlements typically provide compensation to class members or a remedy that addresses the underlying harm, which in this case was a violation of federal privacy law. The letter from EPIC proposes alternatives that would enable stronger privacy safeguards for Facebook users in the future. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy, EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster.
  • EPIC’s Facebook Complaint of "particular interest" to FTC » (Jan. 19, 2010)
    The FTC has sent a letter to EPIC regarding the December 2009 complaint, submitted by privacy organizations, about Facebook’s recent changes to user privacy settings. In the letter, the Bureau of Consumer Protection Director states that the complaint “raises issues of particular interest” for the FTC. Further, Vladeck stresses the importance of providing “transparency about how this data is being handled, maintained, shared, and protected . . . .” The Commission, however, cannot confirm or deny whether an investigation has been launched. The letter came one day before EPIC filed a supplemental complaint regarding Facebook’s privacy practices. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • Canadian Privacy Commission to Investigate Facebook » (Jan. 19, 2010)
    Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has launched an investigation into the information collection and use practices of online social networking sites. This investigation is being conducted as the Parliament prepares to review the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Stoddart plans to examine “issues that we feel pose a serious challenge to the privacy of consumers, now and in the near future,” and to foster discussions about "the impact of these technological developments on privacy." This is not the first time the Commissioner has investigated the information practices of Facebook. In August 2009, Facebook made several changes to its privacy policy, following recommendations by the Commissioner and a complaint filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy and EPIC: Social Networking Privacy.
  • Privacy Groups File Amended Complaint regarding Facebook » (Jan. 14, 2010)
    EPIC and several other groups filed a supplement to the groups' original complaint with the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook’s recent privacy changes. The new complaint provides additional evidence of Facebook’s unfair and deceptive trade practices relating to Facebook CEO's public statements, the most recent version of the Facebook for iPhone application, Facebook Connect, and "web-suicide" applications. The complaint also offers numerous examples of media stories and blog posts in support of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into Facebook’s unfair and deceptive trade practices. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook.
  • EPIC Defends Privacy of Facebook Users: Files Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission » (Dec. 17, 2009)
    EPIC has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, urging the FTC to open an investigation into Facebook’s revised privacy settings. The EPIC complaint, signed by nine other privacy and consumer organizations, states that the  "changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations." EPIC cites widespread opposition from Facebook users, security experts, bloggers, and news organizations. A previous EPIC complaint to the FTC, concerning the data broker industry, produced the largest settlement in the FTC's history.  For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding EPIC's Facebook Complaint, and EPIC Facebook Privacy. EPIC PRESS RELEASE.
  • Facebook Asks Users to Review Privacy Settings, Recommends Privacy Options, Questions Remain » (Dec. 9, 2009)
    Facebook is asking users to review and update their privacy settings. However, the privacy recommendations, suggested by Facebook, may result in greater disclosure than users intend. Facebook faces ongoing privacy scrutiny following Beacon, proposed changes to the Terms of Services, and a settlement now pending in California. EPIC has urged Facebook to respect user privacy settings. EPIC is also defending the privacy rights of Facebook users who participated in Beacon. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy.
  • FTC Considers Emerging Privacy Concerns at First Privacy Roundtable » (Dec. 9, 2009)
    The Federal Trade Commission held the first of three privacy roundtables this week in Washington, DC. The well-attended event featured privacy and security experts from around the country, with each panel consisting of at least one industry representative and one privacy advocate. The failure of the current notice and choice model, the need to regulate behavioral targeting, concerns about government access to data, and the high privacy expectations of consumers were among recurring topics throughout the day. EPIC's Marc Rotenberg said it was important for the Commission to focus on emerging business practices and the impact on consumer privacy. The second privacy roundtable will be held on Data Privacy Day - January 28, 2010 - at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. The FTC welcomes comments from the public in advance of the roundtable.
  • Facebook to Drop Regional Networks, Change Privacy Settings » (Dec. 4, 2009)
    Facebook announced that it intends to eliminate regional networks, which allow users to restrict information shared with others based geography. The social networking service will also modify the site's privacy settings and require users to update the rules governing who can access their data. In February, revisions to Facebook's terms of service prompted users to revolt and Facebook to rescind the changes hours before EPIC planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Prior changes to the service resulted in disclosure of Facebook users' video rental records without their permission, prompting federal lawsuits. For more, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and Social Networking Privacy
  • President Obama Nominates Brill and Ramirez for Federal Trade Commission » (Nov. 17, 2009)
    President Obama nominated Julie Brill and Edith Ramirez to be commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission. Brill, North Carolina’s top consumer advocate, serves as the senior deputy attorney general and chief of consumer protection and antitrust for the North Carolina Department of Justice. Ramirez, who specializes in intellectual property and complex litigation matters, is a partner in a Los Angeles, California law firm and has experience representing companies such as Mattel, Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. In a press release, President Obama stated, “These individuals bring a depth of experience to their respective roles, and I am confident they will serve my administration and the American people well. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
  • EPIC Urges Court to Enforce Video Privacy Law » (Nov. 4, 2009)
    Today, EPIC filed a friend of the court brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, urging the Court to enforce federal privacy protections for Facebook users who rented videos from Blockbuster, a Facebook business partner. The Video Privacy Protection Act prohibits companies from revealing consumers' video rental histories. EPIC wrote, "Congress established a private right of action to ensure that there would be a meaningful remedy when companies failed to safeguard the data they collected" and warned, "absent a private right of action, there would be no effective enforcement, no remedy for violations, and no way to ensure that companies complied with the intent of the Act." The lawsuit was filed by Cathryn Harris and other Facebook users after Blockbuster made public their private video rental information. Blockbuster, a participant in Facebook's Beacon program, claimed that consumers cannot sue the company and must submit to mandatory arbitration. EPIC's brief, which includes a detailed history of the video privacy law, urges the appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling, which held that the plaintiffs are allowed to pursue their claim that a federal law was violated. For more information, see EPIC Harris v. Blockbuster, EPIC The Video Privacy Protection Act, and EPIC Facebook Privacy.
  • Facebook Updates Privacy Policy in Response to Canadian Privacy Investigation » (Oct. 30, 2009)
    Facebook released a revised privacy policy. The updated policy provides a more concise description of the privacy practices of the developers of third-party applications. Facebook also announced that it will evaluate the collection of user data by application developers. According to a blog post, the revised policy is a response to a complaint filed by Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic in 2008, and attempts to “[fulfill] our commitment to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to update our privacy policy to better describe a number of practices.” Concerns remain about the use of Facebook users' data. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy.
  • EPIC to FTC: "Parental Control" Software Firm Gathers Data for Marketing » (Sep. 29, 2009)
    EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Echometrix, the developer of parental control software that monitors children’s online activity. Echometrix analyzes the information collected from children and sells the data to third parties for market-intelligence research. The EPIC complaint alleges that Echometrix engages in unfair and deceptive trade practices by representing that the software protects children online while simultaneously collecting and disclosing information about children's online activity. The complaint further alleges that Echometrix’s practices violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting and disclosing information from children under the age of 13. The EPIC complaint asks the FTC to stop these practices, seek compensation for victims, and ensure that Echometrix’s collection and disclosure practices comply with COPPA. For more information on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, see EPIC COPPA.
  • Facebook to End Beacon, Establish Privacy Foundation » (Sep. 22, 2009)
    Facebook has entered into a proposed agreement to end Beacon, the controversial advertising technique that broadcast user purchases in their public profile. EPIC and other privacy advocates objected to Beacon’s privacy implications and successfully persuaded Facebook to adopt opt-in for the service. Under the terms of a class-action lawsuit in California, Facebook will now terminate Beacon and contribute $9.5 million towards the creation of a foundation dedicated to protecting online privacy. A class-action lawsuit concerning Beacon is also pending in Texas. For more information, see EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Testimony on the "Impact and Policy Implications of Spyware on Consumers and Businesses."
  • Federal Trade Commission to Host Privacy Roundtables » (Sep. 16, 2009)
    The Federal Trade Commission has announced a series of roundtables on consumer privacy, beginning December 7. These discussions will explore many issues, including consumer information collection, information management practices, new business practices, and the adequacy of existing privacy laws. Roundtable participants will include individuals from a wide range of related fields, including privacy and technology experts. The meetings are open and public comments are encouraged. EPIC has supported the FTC's privacy mission, but has also said that the agency needs to do a lot more to safeguard consumer privacy. For more information, see EPIC FTC page.
  • Trade Commission Prohibits Robocalls » (Aug. 28, 2009)
    The Federal Trade Commission is prohibiting commercial telemarketing calls to consumers after September 1, 2009. The agency amended the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which imposes a penalty of $16,000 per call, to cover sellers and telemarketers who transmit prerecorded messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing to accept such messages. The Telemarketing Rule is authorized under the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act. The new rule does not prohibit informational messages or calls by politicians, banks, telephone carriers, and charities. EPIC has urged the FCC to require strong privacy safeguards for telephone customers' personal information, and protect wireless subscribers from telemarketing. See also EPIC Telemarketing and Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
  • Following Canadian Investigation, Facebook Upgrades Privacy » (Aug. 28, 2009)
    The Canadian Privacy Commissioner issued a report last month raising concerns over Facebook business practices. The Office asked the social networking firm to cease the sharing of user information with application developers, clarify the policy on deactivation and deletion of accounts, protect the personal information of non-users, and "memorialize" the account of deceased users. In complying with the Commissioner's report, Facebook will include new notifications, update its Privacy Policy, and implement technical changes to enable more user control over information accessed by third-party applications. EPIC had previously raised similar concerns about the use of Facebook data by application developers. See also EPIC Facebook and EPIC Social Network Privacy.
  • FTC Issues Final Breach Notification Rule for Electronic Health Information » (Aug. 21, 2009)
    The Federal Trade Commission issued a final rule requiring breach notification by vendors of medical records and related entities. In June, EPIC submitted comments recommending that all entities handling electronic health records be subject to the regulation and that the FTC should establish a central location to track and announce breaches. The FTC modified the rule accordingly. EPIC had also recommended that information "accessed" be treated as "acquired", substitute media notices be used as supplemental notification, verification of data breach notices be required, minimum security standards be created, penalties for violations be assessed, and the creation of "safe-harbors" for de-identified data be opposed. The rule was mandated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. See EPIC Medical Privacy and EPIC Identity Theft.
  • Canadian Privacy Commissioner's Deadline for Facebook Arrives, Some Changes are Made at the Social Network Company » (Aug. 17, 2009)
    In mid-July, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner released a report recommending several changes to Facebook's business practices. The Commissioner's Office advised the social networking firm to limit application developers' access to user information, and inform users specifically about the nature and use of shared information. The Office also said that deactivated account information should be deleted, and that the privacy policy be amended to include all intended uses of personal information. Facebook was given 30 days. Facebook updated its privacy policy last week and has asked application developers to respect user privacy settings. See also EPIC Facebook and EPIC Social Network Privacy.
  • EPIC Forces Disclosure of Government Contracts with Social Media Companies, Privacy Terms Missing » (Aug. 12, 2009)
    In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act Request, the Government Services Administration released several contracts between the federal government and web 2.0 companies, including agreements with Blip.tv, Blist, Google (YouTube), Yahoo (Flickr), and MySpace. EPIC also obtained amendments to agreements with Facebook, Slideshare.net, Vimeo.com, and AddThis.com. The contracts do not address the privacy obligations of social media companies. The GSA letter to EPIC explained that “no specific Web 2.0 guidance currently exists,” but provided EPIC with Training Slides that raise privacy issues. The GSA Agreement with Google actually states that, “to the extent any rules or guidelines exist prohibiting the use of persistent cookies in connection with Provider Content applies to Google, Provider expressly waives those rules or guidelines as they may apply to Google.” Some of the agreements also permit companies to track users of government web sites for advertising purposes. For more information see EPIC Social Network Privacy, EPIC Facebook, and EPIC Cloud Computing.
  • Canadian Privacy Commissioner Holds that Facebook Must Strengthen Privacy Safeguards » (Jul. 16, 2009)
    The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada today released a Report of Findings into the Complaint Filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic against Facebook Inc. The complaint, filed under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, contained twenty-four allegations concerning a range of Facebook business practices, including Default Privacy Settings, Advertising, and Third-Party Applications. The Commissioner found that Facebook has taken some steps to address privacy, but that more safeguards are necessary. Facebook has 30 days to respond. See EPIC Facebook Privacy and EPIC Social Networking Privacy.
  • Facebook to Change User Privacy Settings » (Jul. 1, 2009)
    Facebook announced planned changes to user privacy controls today. Chris Kelly, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer, stated that the new policy will promote "control, simplicity and connection" for user data. The announcement states there will be no changes in term of "the information Facebook provides to advertisers" but does not address concerns about the information provided by Facebook to app developers. In June, European Privacy Commissioners warned about the secondary use of personal data collected by social network services. The officials issued an opinion requiring robust security, privacy-friendly default settings, and the application of European privacy law. In April, EPIC supported the adoption of the new Facebook Terms of Service when Facebook said that "users own and control their information." See EPIC Social Networking Privacy.
  • EPIC Seeks Government Agreements with Social Networking Companies » (Apr. 30, 2009)
    EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Government Services Administration seeking agency records concerning agreements the GSA negotiated between federal agencies and social networking services, including Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv, and Facebook. In the FOIA request, EPIC is asking for the public release of the contracts and any legal opinions concerning the application of the Privacy Act of 1974 and Freedom of Information Act to the services that collect information on citizens. For more information see EPIC’s pages Social Networking, Facebook, and Cloud Computing.
  • Privacy and Consumer Groups Seek New FTC Commissioner » (Apr. 27, 2009)
    EPIC joined other privacy and consumer organizations on a letter to President Obama urging the appointment of a pro-consumer Commissioner to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The groups called for the appointment of someone with a “distinguished record of achievement in consumer affairs, with a demonstrated commitment to protecting the public.” The Commission has been one person short of its full membership since former Chair Deborah Platt Majoras left the agency last year. The President appointed Jon Leibowitz to serve as the current chair of the FTC. For more information, see EPIC’s page on the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Facebook Gets Ready to Adopt Terms of Service » (Apr. 24, 2009)
    Facebook has announced the results of the vote on site governance. The initial outcome indicates that approximately 75 percent of users voted for the new terms of service which includes the new Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Under the new Principles, Facebook users will "own and control their information." Facebook also took steps to improve account deletion, to limit sublicenses, and to reduce data exchanges with application developers. EPIC supports the adoption of the new terms. For more information, see EPIC's page on Social Networking Privacy.
  • Facebook Seeks Vote on Site Governance » (Apr. 20, 2009)
    In February, Facebook announced that it was opening its site governance to user voting after the new Terms of Service were widely criticized, and were to be the subject of an EPIC complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook restored the old terms and sought user feedback on the new Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. These governing documents have now been updated to reflect feedback from users and experts. The voting to adopt the new terms or to maintain the previous terms is now open till April 23, 11:59 a.m. PDT. For more, see the efforts of People Against the New Terms of Service, and EPIC's Social Networking Privacy page.
  • Federal Trade Commission to Review EPIC Cloud Computing Complaint » (Mar. 19, 2009)
    The Federal Trade Commission will review EPIC's March 17, 2009 complaint, which describes Google's unfair and deceptive business practices concerning the firm's Cloud Computing Services. EPIC's complaint describes numerous data breaches involving user-generated information stored by Google, including the recently reported breach of Google Docs. EPIC's complaint "raises a number of concerns about the privacy and security of information collected from consumers online," federal regulators said. EPIC urged the Commission to take "such measures as are necessary" to ensure the safety and security of information submitted to Google. Previous EPIC complaints have led the Commission to order Microsoft to revise the security standards for Passport and to require Choicepoint to change its business practices and pay $15 m in fines. For more information, see EPIC's complaint to the FTC. EPIC's Cloud Computing Page.
  • EPIC Petitions FTC to Investigate Google, Cloud Computing Services » (Mar. 17, 2009)
    EPIC has formally asked the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into Google's Cloud Computing Services -- including Gmail, Google Docs, and Picasa -- to determine "the adequacy of the privacy and security safeguards." The petition follows the recent report of a breach of Google Docs. EPIC cited the growing dependence of American consumers, businesses, and federal agencies on cloud computing services, and urged the Commission to take "such measures as are necessary" to ensure the safety and security of information submitted to Google. Previous EPIC complaints have led the Commission to order Microsoft to revise the security standards for Passport and to require Choicepoint to change its business practices and pay $15 m in fines.
  • Facebook Announces Governing Principles, Statement of Rights and Responsibilities » (Feb. 26, 2009)
    Today, Facebook proposed guidelines and a statement of rights and responsibilities governing its relationship with users. The social networking service called for user comment on the principles, which include "Ownership and Control of Information" and "Transparent Process." Facebook further committed to "open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future." Facebook's announcement follows last week's abandonment of changes to its Terms of Service on the eve of an EPIC complaint to federal regulators. For more and see the efforts of People Against the New Terms of Service, and EPIC's "Social Networking Privacy" page.
  • On Eve of EPIC Trade Commission Complaint, Facebook Backs Down on Revised Terms of Service » (Feb. 18, 2009)
    Hours before EPIC planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding changes to Facebook's Terms of Service, the social network service announced that it will restore the original policy. The new Terms of Service were announced on Feb. 4, were widely criticized, and were to be the subject of the EPIC complaint. Facebook users observed that, under the revised policies, Facebook asserted broad, permanent, and retroactive rights to users' personal information - even after they deleted their accounts. The EPIC complaint was supported by more than a dozen consumer and privacy organizations. Previous EPIC Complaints at the FTC have concerned Choicepoint, Microsoft Passport, and the Google-Doubleclick merger. For more, see EPIC's "Social Networking Privacy" page. Support EPIC's efforts to maintain your privacy in the social networking world.
  • Trade Commission Issues Voluntary Guidelines for Online Tracking, Targeting, and Advertising » (Feb. 12, 2009)
    Today, the Federal Trade Commission released voluntary guidelines for Internet advertising and behavioral targeting. The guidelines set out four principles: "1) transparency and consumer control; 2) reasonable security and limited data retention for consumer data; 3) affirmative express consent for material retroactive changes to privacy promises; and 4) affirmative express consent to (or prohibition against) use of sensitive data." There is no means to enforce the guidelines, and Commissioners Jon Leibowitz and warned that they are insufficient to ensure consumers' privacy. Commissioner Harbour cautioned that the guidelines "focus too narrowly" and urged rulemakers to "take a more comprehensive approach to privacy." The guidelines are in part a response to EPIC's 2007 Complaint regarding the Google-Doubleclick merger raising concerns about the profiling of Internet users and the need to establish clear privacy safeguards as a condition of the merger. For more information, see EPIC's Complaint regarding the Google/DoubleClick merger and page Privacy? Proposed Google/DoubleClick Deal.
  • Consumer Groups Urge Trade Commission to Investigate Mobile Marketing » (Jan. 13, 2009)
    The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the growing threat to consumer privacy in the mobile advertising world. Certain services track, analyze, and target the public and build secret profiles. Users are targeted based on their online behavior and their location. The complaint urges the Commission to define and clarify practices, review self-regulation, require notice and disclosure and also protect the public. Earlier, thirty Privacy Coalition members sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama highlighting the importance of protecting consumer privacy in new network services. For more information, see EPIC's page on Privacy and Consumer Profiling.

Background

In Freedom of Information Act lawsuit EPIC v. FTC, EPIC is seeking the Facebook assessments, reports, and related records required by the 2012 FTC Consent Order. From 2009 to 2011, EPIC and a coalition of consumer organizations pursued several complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) alleging, among other points, that Facebook had changed user privacy settings and disclosed the personal data of users to third parties without the consent of users. EPIC had conducted extensive research and documented the instances of Facebook overriding users’ privacy settings to reveal personal information and to disclose, for commercial benefit, user data, and the personal data of friends and family members, to third parties without their knowledge or affirmative consent

FTC's Investigation Into Facebook

In response to the complaints from EPIC and consumer privacy organizations, the FTC issued a Preliminary Order against Facebook in 2011 and then a Final Order in 2012. The FTC stated that Facebook “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.”

Under the proposed settlement, Facebook is barred from misrepresenting its privacy and security practices, as well as its compliance with any privacy program; is required to give its users a clear and prominent notice and obtain their affirmative express consent before sharing their information; is required to remove user information within 30 days after the user has deleted their account; is required to establish a comprehensive privacy program; and is required every two years for the next 20 years to obtain independent, third party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that complies with the Final Order.

Cambridge Analytica

On March 16, 2018, Facebook published a press release admitting the unlawful transfer of data from 50 million user profiles to the firm Cambridge Analytica, which harvested the data without user consent. Cambridge Analytica, hired by President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was able to collect the private information of approximately 270,000 users and their extensive friend networks under false pretenses as a research-driven application. All of the users that participated in an online survey created by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan. The users consented to having their data collected but was told it was for “academic use.” The third party application subsequently scraped the data of these user’s friends without their knowledge or consent and transferred the data to Cambridge Analytica. That estimated number has since increased to 87 million users, making it one of the largest unlawful data transfers in Facebook’s history.

The transfer of data is a violation of the 2012 FTC Consent Order, which states that Facebook “shall not misrepresent in any manner, expressly or by implication . . . the extent to which [Facebook] makes or has made covered information accessible to third parties; and the steps [Facebook] takes or has taken to verify the privacy or security protections that any third party provides.”

Facebook’s Initial Assessment was due on April 13, 2013, and the subsequent reporting deadlines were due in 2015 and 2017. Cambridge Analytica engaged in the illicit collection of Facebook user data from 2014 to 2016, which is encompassed by the reporting period of the requested assessments.

On March 26, 2018, the FTC announced an investigation to determine whether Facebook violated the 2012 FTC Consent Order. Acting Director Tom Pahl stated, “Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook.”

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, lawmakers in the U.S. and abroad swiftly demanded answers from Facebook. On April 10, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg testified publicly before a joint hearing before both the Senate Judiciary and Senate Commerce Committees and the next day testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Several state attorney generals have have opened both joint and independent investigations into Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica - including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Missouri. Moreover, it has been reported that the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested emails from Cambridge Analytica as part of his investigation into the Russian interference of the 2016 Presidential Election.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC President Marc Rotenberg has stated: "It's not clear why a company that has asked us to give up so much privacy should be allowed to maintain so much secrecy." There is a profound and urgent public interest in the release of the Facebook Assessments and related records. The release of the full audits is crucial for Congress, the States Attorneys General, and the public to evaluate how the Cambridge Analytica breach occurred and how the FTC, Facebook, and the selected independent third-party auditor fulfilled their obligations under the 2012 FTC Consent Order.

Central to EPIC’s mission is oversight and analysis of government activities. Through its Consumer Privacy Project, EPIC has brought numerous complaints and petitions to the Federal Trade Commission concerning business practices that implicate consumer privacy. Notably, EPIC has brought several complaints concerning Facebook's business practices. In In re Facebook, EPIC brought a complaint focusing on the unfair and deceptive trade practices of Facebook with respect to the sharing of user information with third-party application developers that led to the 2012 Consent Decree. A year later, EPIC brought a second complaint, In re Facebook II, addressing Facebook's latest round of changes. In In re Facebook (Psychological Study), EPIC filed a complaint concerning Facebook's "secretive and non-consensual use of personal information to conduct an ongoing psychological experiment on 700,000 Facebook users, i.e. the company purposefully messed with people's minds." Lastly, in In re Facebook (Facial Recognition), EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups filed a complaint asserting that Facebook's use of facial recognition techniques threaten user privacy and violates the 2012 Consent Order.

FOIA Documents

Facebook Privacy Assessments

Facebook's Privacy Assessments are critical to understanding how Facebook allowed the unauthorized disclosure of 87 million user records to Cambridge Analytica while it was under an FTC Order. The Privacy Assessments were required as part of the 2011 Consent Order. The Order required Facebook to implement a "comprehensive privacy program" designed to identify "reasonably foreseeable" risks that could result in the "unauthorized collection, use, or disclosure" of personal data." To assess the effectiveness of that program, Facebook was required to "obtain initial and biennial assessments and reports" from an independent third party. To date, there are three published assessment periods: 2013, 2015, and 2017.

The Privacy Assessments were performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), an auditing and accounting firm. PwC performed its assessments by conducting interviews with Facebook employees and making observations, both "physically or online" to assess the "effectiveness of the controls and safeguards implemented."

What is most notable about these assessments is that they cover the period during which the Cambridge Analytica scandal occurred, yet PwC found each time that "Facebook's privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy of covered information."

In particular, the 2013-15 Assessment covers the period during which Dr. Alexander Kogan, a researcher for Cambridge University, developed an app that allowed him to collect the data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent and sell it to Cambridge Analytica in violation of Facebook's terms. The 2015-17 report covers the period during which Facebook discovered this data transfer had occurred. Both Assessments state:

[Facebook] has implemented mechanisms to ensure that Facebook obtains consent from users prior to disclosing non-public personal information to third-party developers ... Facebook requires developers who access non-public APIs to agree to Facebook's Data Use Policy, Terms, and Platform Policies.

Neither Assessments indicated that the FTC any issues surrounding data collection by third-party app developers.

In May 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook revealed that it had suspended 200 apps over possible data misuse. In June 2018, reported that Facebook had overridden users' privacy settings to grant at least 60 device makers secret access to user data. Neither issue is mentioned in the Assessments. The 2015-17 Assessment also fails to mention a major change Facebook made to its platform in 2015, when it restricted third-party access to the API that allowed Cambridge Analytica to gain access to friends' data.

EPIC told Congress that, "[t]he transfer of 87 million user records to Cambridge Analytica could have been avoided if the FTC had done its job. The 2011 Consent Order against Facebook was issued to protect the privacy of user data." The Privacy Assessments were supposed to "certify that [Facebook's] privacy controls [were] operating with sufficient effectiveness." Had the Assessments complied with this requirement, they would have alerted the FTC to problems with Facebook's privacy controls long before the public learned about them in 2018. The FTC also would not have waited until the Cambridge Analytica scandal to launch an investigation into Facebook's privacy practices.

Legal Documents

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 18-942)

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