BUSINESS Technology

With privacy battle brewing, Facebook won't update policy right away

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook will not roll out controversial changes to its policies until next week, the giant social network said Thursday.

Six consumer watchdog groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to block the changes that  they say would make it far easier for the company to use the names, images and personal information of its nearly 1.2 billion users -- including teens -- to endorse products in ads without their consent.

"We are taking the time to ensure that user comments are reviewed and taken into consideration to determine whether further updates are necessary and we expect to finalize the process in the coming week," Facebook said in an emailed statement.

Facebook has insisted that it is not changing its policies, just clarifying the language in them. Facebook denied it delayed the policy update.

But Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said Facebook had to delay the update.

"Facebook is being forced to justify its latest grab of user data to D.C. regulators," Chester said.

Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, said the agency had received the letter from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other watchdog groups but declined to comment.

Facebook has insisted that it is not changing its policies, just clarifying the language in them.

In an interview last week, Facebook's chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, said: "All we are changing is that we are providing more information and more specifics."

Facebook said it proposed new language in response to a $20-million settlement of a 2011 lawsuit that alleged the company used personal information for commercial purposes without consent or compensation.

The new language says users automatically give Facebook the right to use their information unless they specifically deny the company permission to do it. At the same time, Facebook made it more complicated to opt out.

Previously the policy stated that users have the right to control how their names, likeness and personal information are used for commercial purposes.

Privacy watchdogs are also up in arms that Facebook has proposed new language that states that the parents or legal guardians of any user younger than 18 have agreed to Facebook’s terms on their behalf.

Comments by Facebook users to the proposed changes have been largely negative on the official page where they were announced. "I'm opposed to not having control of my image or to have it or comments appear to like something I may not," wrote Facebook user Rebecca R. Bibbs.

Changes to its privacy policies over the years have led to a flood of complaints from consumers concerned about how Facebook handles their personal information. Facebook reached a settlement with the FTC in 2011 after it was alleged the social media company violated users' privacy when it changed default settings to make more of the users' information public.

"Just about every Facebook user who has commented said the proposed changes are a really bad idea," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of the groups that is asking the FTC to block the proposed changes. "If the company is at all serious about listening to users, it will have to back down from its plan."

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