Changing Privacy Policies

In 2009, FaceBook made major changes to privacy settings of its users that became part of the basis of FTC charges against the company. Prior to the 2009 changes, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the service would radically change its privacy policies. Later Zuckerberg explained, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are…”

Zuckerberg raised an important point: if societal norms change, shouldn’t services be able to change their policies to reflect or shape those changes? At the same time, how comfortable should we be when a company with a dominant network decides it wants to change social norms? Katherine Losse, an assistant to Zuckerberg, recounts that within the company, there was little dissent or even discussion about privacy issues and suggested that those who flagged privacy issues were dismissed: “Forcing people to be more open implied that we were all in some way closed, as though there was something wrong in the way we conducted our personal lives. How was it a Web site’s place to say that we needed to reveal more about ourselves publicly?”[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][1]

FTC law surrounding policy changes is clearer today, as a result of the matters against Gateway, Google, and FaceBook. Retroactive changes that affect data already collected require notice of the changes and affirmative consent from the consumer. However, prospective changes can be accomplished through notice and opt out.[2] Companies are free to cut off services to those who refuse to agree to the prospective changes.

[1] Kathering Losse, The Boy Kings (2012).

[2] Letter From Jessica L. Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection, to Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook, and to Anne Hoge, General Counsel, WhatsApp Inc. (Apr. 14, 2014).[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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