Myspace and Feds Settle Charges Over Myspace’s Sloppy Sharing of User’s Personal Information with Advertisers

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Myspace (yes, they are still around, believe it or not) has settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission over Myspace’s alleged misleading of their users as to how Myspace was handling user personal information. Put plainly, Myspace was sharing the personal information of their users with advertisers, but misleading users about how they were using their personal information.

Specifically, MySpace was sharing their users’ “Friend ID” with advertisers, through which advertisers could track down users and find all of the information available on their MySpace profile. So, for example, if your Friend ID was 123XYZ, and MySpace gave that Friend ID to an advertiser, you were no longer an anonymous MySpace user, because the advertiser could use 123XYZ to look up your profile, cross-referencing your Friend ID with any information that was public in your MySpace profile, including your name, etc.. According to some reports, the Friend ID also allowed advertisers to determine a user’s web-browsing history.

MySpace was sold to New Corp in 2005 for $580 million; six years later, in 2011, News Corp sold MySpace to Specific Media for less than a tenth of what they had paid for it – a paltry $35 million.


Specific Media says that they settled with the Feds in order to “put any questions regarding Myspace’s pre-acquisition advertising practices behind us.”

In addition, Specific Media says that after purchasing MySpace, they did a thorough review of MySpace’s privacy policies and “successfully improved upon Myspace’s historical practices, bringing the social media platform to the forefront of industry best practice for ad delivery.”

Want to know more? Here is the statement released by the FTC:

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Myspace Settles FTC Charges That It Misled Millions of Users About Sharing Personal Information with Advertisers
Settlement Will Require Regular Privacy Assessments for the Next 20 Years

Social networking service Myspace has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it misrepresented its protection of users’ personal information. The settlement, part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts make sure companies live up to the privacy promises they make to consumers, bars Myspace from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy assessments for the next 20 years.

The Myspace social network has millions of users who create and customize online profiles containing substantial personalized content. Myspace assigns a persistent unique identifier, called a “Friend ID,” to each profile created on Myspace. A user’s profile publicly discloses his or her age, gender, profile picture (if the user chooses to include one), display name, and, by default, the user’s full name. User profiles also may contain additional information such as pictures, hobbies, interests, and lists of users’ friends.

 

Myspace’s privacy policy promised it would not share users personally identifiable information, or use such information in a way that was inconsistent with the purpose for which it was submitted, without first giving notice to users and receiving their permission to do so. The privacy policy also promised that the information used to customize ads would not individually identify users to third parties and would not share non-anonymized browsing activity.

Despite the promises contained in its privacy policy, the FTC charged, Myspace provided advertisers with the Friend ID of users who were viewing particular pages on the site. Advertisers could use the Friend ID to locate a user’s Myspace profile to obtain personal information publicly available on the profile and, in most instances, the user’s full name. Advertisers also could combine the user’s real name and other personal information with additional information to link broader web-browsing activity to a specific individual. The agency charged that the deceptive statements in its privacy policy violated federal law.

In addition, Myspace certified that it complied with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States. As part of its self-certification, Myspace claimed that it complied with the Safe Harbor Principles, including the requirements that consumers be given notice of how their information will be used and the choice to opt out. The FTC alleged that these statements were false.

The proposed settlement order bars Myspace from misrepresenting the extent to which it
protects the privacy of users’ personal information or the extent to which it belongs to or complies with any privacy, security or other compliance program, including the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework. The order also requires that Myspace establish a comprehensive privacy program designed to protect consumers’ information, and to obtain biennial assessments of its privacy program by independent, third-party auditors for 20 years.

The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement package containing the proposed consent order for public comment was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen not participating. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through June 8, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments can be filed electronically at this link. Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.

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