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FTC says Myspace violated privacy laws

Company accepts consent order

WASHINGTON - Continuing its crackdown on privacy violations, the Federal Trade Commission charged Myspace on Tuesday with violating federal law by breaching its promise not to share users’ personal information, including their Web browsing habits, with advertising companies.

Without admitting or denying the charge, the social media Internet site agreed to a tentative consent order that requires it to obey its stated privacy policies, to establish comprehensive privacy controls and procedures, and to submit to audits of its actions every other year for 20 years.

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News Corp. sold Myspace in June to Specific Media, an advertising group. In a statement, Specific Media said it had settled the case “to put any questions regarding Myspace’s preacquisition practices behind us.’’ Some of the period covered by the accusations came after the sale to Specific Media.

The FTC does not have general legal authority to assess penalties for violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act. If the commission accepts the consent order after a 30-day public comment period, violations of the agreement could be punished with a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for each transgression.

“One of our first actions after acquiring Myspace was to thoroughly examine the company’s business practices and, where applicable, make improvements,’’ Specific Media said. “A major focus of this review was to ensure that Myspace delivered advertisements to consumers in a manner that safeguarded their privacy.’’

The FTC asserted that from January 2009 through June 2010, and again from October 2010 through October 2011, Myspace transmitted information, including internal identification numbers assigned to users, along with their ages and sex to outside advertising networks.

Using that information, the FTC said, third parties could obtain the user’s name and other personal information and use a file placed on the user’s computer to view a history of websites visited.

The agreement is similar to one reached in 2011 with Google over its Google Buzz network. The commission is now investigating whether Google violated that agreement when it reportedly circumvented privacy controls on Apple’s Safari browser, according to people close to the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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