FTC Slaps MySpace For Privacy Breaches

Federal regulators slapped MySpace’s wrist Tuesday, finding that the company still exists and that it violated the privacy promises it made to its 25 million registered users.

MySpace joins its more prosperous internet cousins, Facebook and Google, in the club of companies that have been slapped by the Federal Trade Commission with mandatory privacy audits for the next 20 years (though it’s not clear anyone expects MySpace to last that long).

The FTC targeted MySpace for sharing personal, identifiable information with advertisers in breach of the social-networking site’s own privacy agreement with users.

The proposed settlement, which MySpace accepts, follows a November agreement with Facebook, which was accused of sharing private user data (.pdf) in violation of its terms of service. No monetary fine is included in the settlement.

The FTC is also said to be in talks to settle with Google over it breaching Safari browser privacy settings in violation of an agreement it struck with the FTC, including a fine that might be as high as $10 million.

In 2010, the FTC dinged Twitter for repeated security flaws that violated promises made to users.

The authorities contend MySpace violated its own terms of service agreements with its users and shared user’s name, age, gender, e-mail address and photo with MySpace advertisers and third-party advertisers between at least 2009 and 2010.

The FTC said MySpace, when calling a third-party ad to render on the MySpace site, would transmit (.pdf) the “age and gender of the viewing user to a third-party advertisers in plain text,” in addition to e-mail addresses and other personal information.

What’s more, the music-oriented site MySpace was responsible for giving advertisers the “capability to track users’ viewing habits across different websites using tracking cookies,” the FTC said.

Also in breach of its own privacy policy, MySpace paved the way for third-party advertisers to “combine the user’s real name and other personal information with that advertiser’s tracking cookie and the history of websites the user has visited.”

News Corp paid $580 million in 2006 to buy the then-dominant social networking company, only to see it eclipsed by Facebook. It unloaded MySpace in June for $35 million to Specific Media.

“In order to put any questions regarding Myspace’s pre-acquisition advertising practices behind us, MySpace has reached an agreement with the FTC that makes a formal commitment to our community to accurately disclose how their information is used and shared,” the Beverly Hills-based new owners said in a statement.