Washington legislators were quick to react Tuesday to the news Facebook had promised not to make privacy promises it could not keep, starting with the suggestion by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) that Congress would need to step in.
Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and a long-time proponent of an opt-in privacy protection regime, said Facebook must take affirmative and stronger steps to protect privacy -- essentially the Federal Trade Commission is confined to preventing it from making deceptive claims it can't deliver on, though the settlement does require it to take some affirmative steps like coming up with a privacy program that includes trying to make ISPs protect privacy as well.
"Consumer privacy is a right, not a luxury. With today's settlement, Facebook agrees to end deceptive practices and undergo rigorous oversight," said Rockefeller in response to the settlement. "But this action against Facebook is just the first step toward protecting consumer privacy. Ultimately, I believe legislation is needed that empowers consumers to protect their personal information from companies surreptitiously collecting and using that personal information for profit. It's unacceptable for any company, including Facebook, to change customer privacy settings without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users. I commend the way the FTC has used its enforcement authority to improve protections for consumers in an ever-evolving online and mobile world."
Rockefeller has sponsored legislation to provide online users more control of their information and give the FTC even more authority to crack down on abusers.
The chairs of the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, who had pressed Facebook over their own privacy concerns, also had praise for the FTC. "I commend the Commission for pursuing privacy problems at Facebook and taking action to require the strengthening of safeguards that Facebook must apply to its users' personal information," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was having a busy privacy day, having already criticized Amazon for not providing sufficient info on the security of its Kindle Fire tablet. "The settlement's privacy protections will benefit Facebook users and should serve as a new, higher standard for other companies to follow in their own efforts to protect consumers' privacy online," he said.
"I was disappointed when Facebook made user profiles public by default and without adequate notice," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).
The Commission and Facebook are both making a strong statement today with their settlement terms: consumer privacy matters. I hope that all websites operators will truly value the importance of online privacy."
Barton and Markey both back online privacy protection legislation and both wrote facebook over the past couple of years with concerns about third-party access to users info. Earlier this month, the pair sought information from the company about a patent describing a method of tracking users, and in September asked the FTC to investigate reports that Facebook tracked users even after they had logged out of the site.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) whose Palo Alto district is home to a host of Internet companies, including Facebook, had some nice things to say about the company as well. "By making important and positive improvements to its approach to protecting user privacy, Facebook has made a commitment that will put consumers first," she said. "The importance of personal privacy is woven into the fabric of our country, and use of personal data by any company must be transparent and secure. I've always believed that companies, whether large or small, should provide tools that give consumers confidence that their information will not be shared more broadly than they intended. [Tuesday's] agreement upholds this belief."