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Facebook ends "experiment with democracy"
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Dec 10, 2012


US probes mobile apps for data collection on kids
Washington (AFP) Dec 10, 2012 - US regulators have launched a series of probes on whether mobile apps targeted at children violate privacy laws by collecting and sharing data which can be used for detailed profiles, officials said Monday.

The Federal Trade Commission said its latest review of mobile apps available on Apple's App Store and Google Play found that many collect personal data, and often share this with developers or marketers without disclosing this fact to parents.

"Our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz.

"All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job. We'll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement."

An FTC statement said the agency "is launching non-public investigations to determine whether certain entities in the mobile app marketplace are violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act."

Jessica Rich, the FTC's deputy enforcement chief, declined to provide details on the apps which might be targeted, but said that "if they violated the laws, we would bring an enforcement action."

She said the agency was not identifying specific apps but hopes the developers and marketplaces can step up privacy protections.

"We're not naming names in part because we think this is a systematic problem," she said. "We don't want people to think if they avoid certain apps they are home free."

Rich said most apps studied by the FTC "made no privacy disclosures at all" and that those which did so "failed to make available the critical information that parents need."

Of particular concern, she said, was that apps were collecting and sharing data which could allow personal identification of children using mobile device, track their location or provide the phone numbers to marketers.

"Parents may not want their kids to be served ads and they definitely don't want their kids to be served personalized ads based on profiles," she said.

Based on the study, she said, "There is a potential to develop these detailed profiles. There was also a transmission of geolocation and phone numbers, which many parents would object to."

Facebook on Monday said it is closing the polls on "an experiment with democracy" that let members of the social network vote on proposed policy changes.

A referendum to strip Facebook users of the power to endorse or reject policy changes through popular vote was opposed by 87 percent of the 668,125 members who cast ballots but not enough people voted to make the results binding.

Since fewer than 30 percent of Facebook's one billion users voted, the California-based firm exercised its option to go forward with a plan to eliminate the voting structure and integrate Instagram data for ad purposes.

"Facebook is likely to make an announcement soon about the vote's results and when the new versions of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy will go into effect," the social network said in a blog post.

"Beyond the end of Facebook's experiment with democracy, the most interesting outcome of the vote is that Facebook will be able to intermingle data with its affiliates including Instagram."

Facebook bought smartphone-picture sharing service Instagram early this year in a cash and stock deal valued at a billion dollars at the time.

A week ago, Facebook asked its members to vote on an overhaul of privacy and other policies in what on Monday became the last binding referendum of its kind at the huge social network.

The social media giant, which has drawn fresh fire from privacy activists for the proposed changes on how it manages users' data, said the poll would be binding only if it gets responses from 30 percent of members -- or 300 million people.

The changes end the voting process, and also would permit sharing of information with its newly acquired photo-sharing service, Instagram.

Additionally, the changes would make it easier for advertisers and others to send messages on Facebook, limiting users' control, according to privacy rights groups.

Activists have raised a ruckus, saying the new policies, if implemented, could violate some laws or Facebook's agreement with US regulators earlier this year after complaints from privacy groups.

Facebook said in a message to users last month that the vote system -- implemented in 2009 -- "resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality."

Facebook's stock price tumbled after its hotly anticipated market debut in May at $38 a share, in part due to concerns over ad and revenue growth.

However, Facebook shares have rallied in recent weeks and were up slightly to $27.92 on Monday.

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