Facebook hires big guns to tackle protests

Facebook has appointed a former Federal Trade Commission boss as its legal counsel to head off complaints from privacy campaigners.

Tim Muris, who was last week awarded a lifetime achievement award by the FTC, was responsible for a more laissez-faire attitude at the watchdog during his time as head under President George Bush, between 2001 and 2004. He recently gave evidence at a hearing against the extension of the FTC’s powers.

In a move that will be seen as a sop to counter criticism, Facebook has also hired Tim Sparapani, senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, as its director of public policy.

Muris has been brought in to quell protests at the announcement in April of Facebook’s Open Graph API, which opens up user data to partner sites so they can customise their home pages for a ‘personalised browsing experience’.

Last week, a 38-page complaint was sent to the US Federal Trade Commission by 15 privacy groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), who also wrote an open letter to the US Congress.

EPIC’s concerns were echoed in an article published at the weekend by tech magazine Wired, which called for the creation of an open-source alternative to Facebook. In it, author Ryan Singel accused the social network of having "gone rogue", citing a graphical demonstration of Facebook’s privacy land-grab by a US blogger.

The diagram shows which elements of user data were by default set to public and private as a result of changes to Facebook’s privacy policy since 2005. It’s the brainchild of Matt McKeon, a user interface designer at IBM’s Visual Communication Lab, and can be found here.