Privacy groups take legal action against Facebook

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A high-profile coalition of privacy groups have filed an official complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over Facebook's recent privacy setting changes.

The groups, headed up by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), claim the changes are in breach of US consumer protection laws, and are calling on the FTC to order Facebook to overturn them.

The move comes a week after the social networking giant rolled out changes aimed at encouraging users to make content more widely available and easier to search for. Previously, it urged users not to make personal information available outside of their friends and networks.

Facebook's 350 million users were made aware of the changes via a pop-up message on login asking them to revisit their privacy settings.

The message said the new tool would give them better control over their personal information and just who was able to view it, but critics argue that Facebook was in effect encouraging people to give up their right to privacy.

It seems that even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was among those caught out by the changes, with a host of private photos from his profile leaking onto the web. Zuckerberg has since claimed the move was deliberate, though the photos in question have now been removed from his profile.

The text of the FTC complaint alleges that "Facebook's changes to users' privacy settings disclose personal information to the public that was previously restricted [and] disclose personal information to third parties that was previously not available."

It continued: "These changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook's own representations."

The complaint was co-signed by Epic and nine other major privacy groups, and calls on Facebook to "restore privacy safeguards".

Facebook responded that it had discussed privacy ramifications widely before introducing the new settings, and said users still had complete control over their personal information in fact, more so now than ever before.

"We've had productive discussions with dozens of organisations around the world about the recent changes and we're disappointed that Epic has chosen to share their concerns with the FTC while refusing to talk to us about them," it claimed in a statement.