Consumers Union Aggressively Challenges Facebook On Privacy

The Consumers Union, the entity behind Consumer Reports, is launching an aggressive campaign for a national privacy law that would offer more transparency and control to online users in connection with data mining, online ad targeting and tracking. In particular, Consumers Union is taking aim at Facebook as the exemplar of practices that it believes should be made more transparent to consumers and/or reined in.

The advocacy group took out a full-page ad (.pdf and above) critical of Facebook in the print version of Politico according to AdAge. AdAge remarked that “While the ad copy seems written to an average consumer, its placement in Politico is obviously an attempt to catch the eye of politicians.” At the bottom of the ad reads the following copy:

Consumers Union has also set up a website (hearusnow.org) that offers information and alerts about online privacy issues. It too takes aim substantially at Facebook.

In conjunction with all of this Consumer Reports conducted a survey of “2,002 online households, including 1,340 that are active on Facebook” for the organization’s annual “State of the Net” report. Among other findings, the survey contained these results and observations:

  • Our projections suggest that 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day (a potential tip-off for burglars) and that 4.7 million “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments (details an insurer might use against you).
  • Almost 13 million users said they had never set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools. And 28 percent shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than just their friends.

In addition the LA Times reported that the survey found roughly 25 percent of survey respondents on Facebook “admitted they made up information about themselves.” This is twice the number from the survey two years ago and, according to Consumer Reports, signals that Facebook users “have become more guarded.”

President Obama is championing privacy legislation and rules for consumers that would cover online ad targeting and data mining. But he and the US Federal Trade Commission are also seeking to forge a consensus national privacy policy for industry self-regulation.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Facebook | Facebook: Legal | Facebook: Statistics | Legal: Privacy

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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