Facebook’s most recent privacy-related changes have brought it new scrutiny from privacy groups, attorneys general and even some members of Congress. So the company has brought in a top anti-trust lawyer named Timothy Muris to help defend it to the federal government, according to the Financial Times.
“There have been some reports that Tim Muris has joined Facebook,” representative Andrew Noyes tells us. “Muris has not joined Facebook.”
Facebook works with a variety of law firms — one scenario is that the company is just consulting with Muris, who is a top lawyer at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. Another scenario is that it has looked at hiring him or is in the process of doing so, but is not yet able to confirm so publicly. Either way, the company is getting more legal help around privacy issues.
Muris has been in the thick of privacy issues and regulation in general for the past few decades, and he understands the FTC, the law and how to approach both better than most. The hire would build on Facebook’s already deep connections to Washington, D.C. — something it started moving on years ago, before many other Silicon Valley companies like Google did, in terms of its life cycle.
It has hired a wide range of executives with governmental experience. These include: current chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, a Google executive who had worked in the Clinton era Treasure department, vice president of global communications, marketing and public policy Elliot Schrage, also a Clinton staffer, and vice president and general counsel Ted Ullyot, a Bush legal adviser. It has also hired former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Timothy Sparapani to work on on its DC public policy issues.
It comes at a time when Facebook has made significant changes to how it treats user data, in a way that is bringing it a new round of criticism from privacy groups and members of the federal government. Four United States Senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into Facebook last month, and a number of leading privacy groups followed up with their own letter — and complained that the FTC had been moving too slowly on previous Facebook privacy changes.
Muris was President George H.W. Bush’s Federal Trade Commission-appointed chairman from 2001 to 2004. He both helped protect consumers and the industry, depending on the issues. He introduced the national do-not-call registry, which lets consumers provide their telephone number to a national database that marketers are prohibited from calling, for example. But as with many other Bush appointees, Muris pursued a non-interventionist policy in the private sector — like in multi-level marketing and online behavioral advertising.
He’s been a private sector lawyer when he hasn’t been in government, including at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. His clients, according to his current biography, have included: Verizon Communications, Inc, ExxonMobil Corporation, a major payment cards network, Citigroup, Inc., Northwest Airlines, Inc., a consumer products conglomerate, U.S. Telecom Association, major companies in the financial services industry, and a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical manufacturer.
He testified to a Senate commerce committee against a legislative proposal that would give the FTC more regulatory authority on privacy, as the Financial Times notes. The measure had already passed the US House of Representatives and privacy groups want to attach it to the financial overhaul making its way through the Senate. Muris, who otherwise declined to comment on the story, told the publication that his testimony included positions “he held for the past 35 years.”