Myspace Settles FTC Charges That It Misled Millions of Users

The social networking site Myspace has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it misrepresented how it shared users’ information with advertisers.

Like other social networking sites, Myspace allows users to create and customize personal online profiles. To register, people have to give their full name, email address, birth date, and gender. Myspace also collects optional info, like a user’s picture, relationship status, sexual orientation, hobbies, etc. Myspace assigns a unique identifier – called a Friend ID – to each profile that’s created. According to the FTC, Myspace’s default settings made users’ full names publicly available via the Friend ID. People had to override that default if they wanted to hide their full names.

What did Myspace say about how it used people’s information? According to the FTC, it boiled down to this: that the company wouldn’t use or share a person’s personally identifiable information except as described in its privacy policy, including sharing information with third parties. Even when the site used cookies to customize content and advertising, Myspace said, “the information used for this feature does not provide your PII or identify you as an individual to third parties.”

But the FTC’s complaint alleges that those promises didn’t square with what was actually happening on the site. 

According to the FTC, Myspace shared users’ Friend IDs with third-party advertisers. At minimum, the Friend ID gave advertisers access to the user’s basic profile information, which for most people included their full name. Furthermore, advertisers could take simple steps to get more detailed information about individual users, including visiting their personal profiles and combining their names and other personal information with tracking cookies to compile a history of the websites they had visited. That wasn’t explained in Myspace’s privacy policy and the company didn’t get users’ OK to do that. Therefore, the FTC alleges, what the company said about how it handled personal information was false or misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.

To settle these charges, Myspace has agreed to regular privacy assessments by independent auditors for the next 20 years.

Blog Topic: Be Smart Online

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is my privacy not so private

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