What the Myspace settlement means for you


By Michelle Maltais

Remember that Myspace profile you created oh so many years ago that you’ve likely neglected? As it turns out the Federal Trade Commission took Myspace to task saying the social networking site exposed your personally identifiable information to advertisers when it had promised to protect it.

Now, they’ve come to an agreement under which Myspace is barred from any other privacy misrepresentations and it must submit to regular privacy assessments over the next 20 years. My colleague Dawn C. Chmielewski details what transpired on the Company Town blog.

Our in-house expert on all things consumer, columnist David Lazarus, said in response to the settlement that, like Facebook, Myspace knows that “they’re greatest single asset is users’ personal information. And if they don’t commit to being good stewards of that information, then the authorities will have to do it for them.”

So what does all of that mean to you?

Well, the impact may register on both ends of the spectrum of good news and bad news. On the positive end, Tuesday’s news of the settlement highlights the importance of privacy commitments, Century City-based attorney Victor Jih told The Times.

On the other end of that spectrum, “The real impact is rewritten privacy policies,” he said.

Jih, who handles consumer privacy class-action cases for O’Melveny & Myers, noted that as services and technologies shift, “it becomes legally important for them to keep their policies up to date.”

Specific Media, which bought Myspace from News Corp., released a statement about the settlement, saying, “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. Myspace has further agreed to implement a comprehensive privacy program that will minimize future risks to the privacy and security of information. As part of this program, Myspace will conduct biennial independent audits of its privacy practices to ensure that we consistently fulfill this commitment to our community. Similar agreements have been entered into by other industry leaders over the past several months.”

Companies, like Myspace, may want to honor their policies but also, as a business operating in a world of risk, seek to cover themselves for every hypothetical situation. The unintended consequence, Jih told The Times, is that the companies jam so much in their policies that it becomes longer and harder to understand.

“That’s the danger from a public policy standpoint.” Jih said. “It gets to the point that there’s so much there that it loses its impact,” if the consumer reads it at all.

What consumers can — and should — do, Jih said, is “be very cognizant and knowledgeable about what they’re signing up for.

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