Myspace sentenced to 20 years of federal scrutiny over privacy, ads, and lies

For the next two decades, Myspace will be undergoing regular privacy assessments from the Federal Trade Commission.

The social-media company was accused by the FTC of sharing its users’ personal information with advertisers, all without disclosing that fact to the users themselves.

Rather than fight the charges, the once-mighty social site chose to settle. As current owner Specific Media stated in a release, the decision to settle was made “in order to put any questions regarding Myspace’s pre-acquisition advertising practices behind us.” The full consent order is embedded below.

The company had access to users’ age, gender, and full name, as well as detailed lists of interests, hobbies, and friends — all immensely valuable to marketers of all stripes. While MySpace was promising users it would not share personally identifiable information (leading to individually targeted advertisements), the FTC saw a different story unfolding:

Despite the promises contained in its privacy policy, the FTC charged, Myspace provided advertisers with the Friend ID of users who were viewing particular pages on the site. Advertisers could use the Friend ID to locate a user’s Myspace profile to obtain personal information publicly available on the profile and, in most instances, the user’s full name. Advertisers also could combine the user’s real name and other personal information with additional information to link broader web-browsing activity to a specific individual. The agency charged that the deceptive statements in its privacy policy violated federal law.

Myspace has been ordered to stop overstating the privacy it provides its users, to set up and maintain a privacy program, and to undergo regular privacy reviews conducted by a “qualified, objective, independent third-party professional” every two years for the next 20 years.

Also, for the next five years, Myspace will have to turn over to the FTC a ton of documentation, including internal communications about privacy, user complaints, any legal or law enforcement documents related to consumer information privacy, and all relevant plans, audits, and reports on MySpace’s information privacy.

Myspace has two months to comply with the order. We’ve got a pool as to which will expire first: the 20-year order or the company itself.

Myspace, once the be-all-end-all of online social networking, experienced a long and dramatic fall from grace, at the end of which it was sold for a paltry $30 million, a fraction of its $580 million purchase price when News Corp. acquired the company in 2005.

We contacted former MySpace executives who were at the company during the period the FTC was concerned about; none had any comment on the situation.

Image courtesy of Willee Cole, Shutterstock


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