User Privacy Policies in the News

In my last post I talked about the hot topic of who owns users’ geolocation data that apps collect.  This post I’m discussing what seems to be a perpetual hot topic: privacy.  The headlines over the last few weeks have shown to be particularly full of privacy headlines. 

To start, the Federal Trade Commission announced new proposed changes to the Childrens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which include stronger parental consent and data security requirements for the personally identifiable information of children.  The proposed changes also include expanding the types of data covered to include geolocation data. These changes could have a big impact on social media companies, as well as application developers.  For more on the proposed changes check out the FTC site, and for more on COPPA check out my post on the topic.  


There was also uproar and a call by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to investigate the terms of use and data collection practices of OnStar, which was tracking users’ data not only while they were under contract with the company, but also after their contracts expired.  The data tracked would include GPS data on where users traveled, how fast they were going, and other driving related information.  Given the potential ways that this data could be used by law enforcement and other agencies, users were very concerned about this data would be tracked and potentially used by third parties.  However, after an FTC investigation and numerous customer complaints, OnStar announced that it was reversing its changes to its privacy policy and would no longer be tracking such data after the expiration of a users’ subscription to the service.  


Facebook introduced new features at its f8 developer conference, including the new Timeline feature and integration with Spotify to allow users to share playlists.  As usual, shortly after the new features were announced, the user uproar about these new features’ impact on privacy started.  Among the features that upset users most were the sharing of everything from applications like Spotify and the Guardian, as well as the tracking of Facebook user data even after users logged out of the site.   There have been a variety of responses to the uproar by those involved.  This week Spotify announced that it was introducing a private listening feature that lets users control what information about what they are listening to is shared on Facebook.  However, it did not announce an alternative to the requirement that users log in to Spotify using their Facebook account, another feature about which users were less than thrilled.  Privacy advocates have also responded, with the Electronic Privacy Information Center calling this week for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Facebook’s practice of tracking user information after they log out.  It will be interesting to see how these issues shake out and how the laws may change to try and better protect user privacy.  

Issues of privacy are of growing concern to businesses and individuals, as well as one of increasing focus by lawmakers.   All of the above headlines point to the importance of having a well drafted privacy policy and terms of use if you are running a business that collects user data, as well as understanding such policies if you are using such a service.  These policies can affect how your data is used or shared, and by clicking ‘accept’ they become binding upon users.  This is why it is key that we as users and social media professionals understand the fine print and how it impacts ourselves, as well as our clients.    As always, this post is intended to inform and hopefully entertain, and is not intended to be legal advice, or the substitute for the advice of a licensed attorney in your area.