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Who Is Facebook Sharing Your Information With?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

 

Facebook is sharing your restaurant habits, favorite songs, documents, and other personal information with three other Web sites—without asking or even letting you about it.

One local man wants to stop them.

Derrick Rose, of East Providence, has filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook, Inc., in U.S. District Court in Providence, accusing the world’s largest social networking Web site of violating users’ privacy by giving personal information without their consent to three other sites: Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft’s docs.com.

“Social networking sites like Facebook are continuing to put profits over privacy and users are demanding control over the use of their personal information on the Internet,”  said Attorney Peter Wasylyk, who is representing Rose.

But Facebook isn’t about to back down. “The suit is without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” company spokesman Barry Schnitt told GoLocalProv yesterday.

Facebook Signed Users Up for Service Without Consent

In April, Facebook added a new feature, called Instant Personalization, that allows “public” information on personal Facebook pages to be shared with the three Web sites.

For example, Pandora, which allows people to create their own online radio stations, uses Instant Personalization to tell listeners what songs their friends like. Yelp, which has reviews of restaurants and other businesses, notifies visitors of what their friends are reviewing, thanks to the new Facebook tool.

Docs.com, a new competitor with Google Docs, has a blue bar at the top of its site saying that it is using Facebook to “personalize your experience.” One drop down menu item at the top lists any documents your friends have “shared.”

Wasylyk warned Instant Personalization could lead to even more egregious privacy violations. “When does it end in terms of what personal information will be released to the public?” he said.

Facebook launched Instant Personalization on April 18 and automatically signed up everyone who was currently on the site. In the suit, filed last Friday, Wasylyk alleges that the feature violates “reasonable expectations of privacy.”

The company did change the Instant Personalization feature on April 23 so that people now have to choose to participate in the program—but that applies only to new users, according to Wasylyk. “They may have it now, but the damage is done,” Wasylyk said. 

In the suit, Rose is asking for a court order that would force Facebook to give that option to all of its members. He also is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages.

With more than 100 million Facebook users in the United States, the class action suit could become one of the largest in U.S. history.

It could set a precedent for privacy rights on the Internet, according to Wasylyk, a consumer rights attorney who also is involved in a suit against Google Buzz—a new feature that harvests personal information from Gmail accounts.

Facebook has made headlines in recent weeks over privacy concerns. In a Washington Post editorial on Monday, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, said the company had heard the complaints of users and would “simplify” privacy controls for users. He also promised that Facebook would create “an easy way to turn off all third-party services.”

 

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