NEWS

Myspace Settles with FTC Over Shady 'Pre-Acquisition Advertising Practices'

By Carlton Purvis

Myspace has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it misled users about how their personal information was being used.

“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,” according to an FTC press release.

The social networking site uses a unique identifier called a “Friend ID” to identify each profile. User profiles can contain their age, gender, and by default their full name. In the past, the Friend ID was appended to profile URLs--a practice Myspace started addressing in 2010.

The Myspace privacy policy says it won’t share personally identifiable information or information in a way that is “inconsistent with the purpose for which it was submitted.” It also says the information used to customize ads wouldn’t be used to identify individuals to third parties.

Instead, the FTC says, Myspace provided advertisers with the Friend ID of users who visited particular pages on the site. Advertisers could use the Friend ID to locate profiles and get whatever information was available publicly. “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,” says the FTC calling the social networking site’s deceptive policy a violation of Federal law.

Additionally:

"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 settlement prohibits Myspace from misrepresenting the extent that it protects users’ personal information and requires it to establish a new privacy program and undergo a third-part privacy audit every two years for the next 20 years.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Specific Media, the company that acquired Myspace from News Corporation in 2011, said the settlement with the FTC was part of an effort to “put any questions regarding Myspace’s pre-acquisition advertising practices” in the past.

“One of our first actions after acquiring Myspace was to thoroughly examine the company’s business practices and, where applicable, make improvements. A major focus of this review was to ensure that Myspace delivered advertisements to consumers in a manner that safeguarded their privacy,” says the statement.

Facebook settled with the FTC over similar charges in November.

An increasing number of people are taking steps to protect personal information on social media profiles, according to results of a recent Pew Research Center study. Recent stats show that more than 50 percent of respondents keep their social media profiles completely hidden from the public.

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