Facebook has hired lawyer Tim Muris, a former senior regulator in the Bush administration, to defend its privacy policies against government scrutiny.
According to the Financial Times, Muris has been appointed while the regulatory agency Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is examining complaints that have been made against the social network on the grounds of privacy. Formerly a chairman of the FTC, Muris is now a lawyer at law firm O’Melveny & Myers.
Earlier this year, Muris appeared before the Senate commerce committee opposing a proposal that recommended giving the FTC greater authority to pass regulations, for example on privacy issues. The proposal has been passed in the House of Representatives and consumer rights advocates are supporting the bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate.
Governments around the world are trying to decide how to regulate Facebook, as its footprint grows. The site currently has around 400 million users worldwide, and faces a great deal of criticism with regards to its privacy policies.
On 5 May, the Washington-based advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, on behalf of itself and 14 other privacy and consumer protection organisations, filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that Facebook “has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law”.
This follows recent changes to the social network that allows disclosure of user data to third parties without prior consent. EPIC said that these changes “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy and contradict Facebook’s own representations.”
In addition, EPIC sent a letter to Congress, urging US government committees to monitor closely the FTC’s investigation.
Last month, US Senator Charles Schumer also asked the FTC to set out guidelines for social networking sites on how to use and share users’ information. He believed that users should be able to opt in to policies rather than opt out. This led to Facebook officials meeting with Schumer's staff to discuss the issues.
In response to complaints, Facebook has said that it actually gives its users more control over their privacy. However, just last week, a bug in the site's system allowed users to view their friends' chat sessions and their friends' pending friend requests on the site.