Facebook Settles with FTC on Privacy Grounds

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a settlement with social networking giant Facebook on Tuesday, requiring the site to take the privacy of its users more seriously and subject itself to privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years, according to an article in the New York Times.

Facebook FTCThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a settlement with social networking giant Facebook on Tuesday, requiring the site to take the privacy of its users more seriously and subject itself to privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years, according to an article in the New York Times.

The changes come in response to a complaint the FTC issued (.PDF) regarding a series of changes the site made in 2009 that the federal government deemed “unfair and deceptive.” The complaint followed a revision to the site’s privacy policy in November of that year made a slew of information, including users’ names, pictures, cities and friends lists, public by default.

According to the new agreement (.PDF) Facebook “shall not misrepresent in any manner, expressly or by implication, the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information.” Furthermore, Facebook will be ordered to notify users and obtain their consent before sharing any information that “materially exceeds the restrictions imposed by a user’s privacy setting.” This means that going forward; the site will have users sign off before it shares their data in a way that is different from how users initially agreed. That follwed allegations that the social networking giant shared that same information with its advertisers from 2008 to 2010 without users’ permission.

While no fines were levied, it was announced the site will be subject $16,000 a day by violating terms of the settlement.

Chief executive and President Mark Zuckerberg posted a response of sorts on Facebook’s blog yesterday, conceding his company has “made a bunch of mistakes,” but also committing to making Facebook the “leader in transparency and control around privacy.”

In recent months, the company has revamped its privacy features and cracked down on how application developers can get access to user data. 

The terms are more or less the same as those rumored in a report from the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. By officially settling with the FTC, like Twitter and Google before it, Facebook puts the possibility of harsher government action and fines behind it, while clarifying its stand on online privacy.

Privacy concerns have dogged Facebook for years, as its user population climbed into the hundreds of million. Among other things, experts have claimed that the site makes it too difficult for users to control who gets access to words and images they share online. 

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