Amid privacy flap, Facebook delays new user policy

Sep. 6, 2013 at 11:03 AM ET

Facebook art
NBC News file

Despite announcing last week that it would implement a user policy update on Sept. 5, Facebook has delayed it until at least next week, possibly due to concerns over the use of users' personal information and photos in advertising and other commercial content.

In a Sept. 4 letter to the Federal Trade Commission, six activist groups that fight for privacy and consumers' rights contended that the changes to Facebook's user privacy policy violate the social network's 2011 settlement with the FTC by allowing "Facebook to routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent."

The letter focuses on one key change in the privacy policy. Facebook's original Statement of Rights and Responsibilities contained this language: 

You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.

In the proposed update, the language has been changed to read:

You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you.

As you can see, the mention of privacy settings and "the limits you place" are no longer present.

The letter — signed by the heads of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital DemocracyConsumer WatchdogPatient Privacy RightsU.S. PIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse — also expresses concern over how minors under the age of 18 would be represented, and how Facebook plans to use personal information to serve up advertising.

The FTC confirmed to NBC News that it has received the letter, but is not making any additional comments about the matter, including whether or not it caused the delay in Facebook's policy roll-out.

When NBC News asked Facebook for a comment, we received the same statement that the social network previously provided the L.A. Times:

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.

A Facebook spokesperson added, in an email to NBC News, "We gave people seven days to review and comment on the updates, the end of that was Sept. 5, but we are still reviewing user feedback so we'll go live next week — nothing to do with the EPIC letter."

So while there may be no direct correlation at this point between the delay and the potential FTC settlement conflict, there are nearly 25,000 user comments (so far) for Facebook to review, and most of them are critical of the changes to user privacy.

Wilson Rothman is the Technology & Science editor at NBC News Digital. Catch up with him on Twitter at @wjrothman, and join our conversation on Facebook.