The deal will settle an FTC case alleging privacy violations on the social network by forcing users to opt in to any changes to default privacy settings, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The FTC inquiry dates back more than two years, and followed changes to the default privacy settings that pushed some formerly private user information into the public domain, the Wall Street Journal reported. Despite efforts to quell controversy over its privacy policies since then, the company has repeatedly ired consumer advocates and some members of Congress since then. In September, Facebook pushed out changes to its 800 million members that made it easier to share information with their Facebook network and made it easier for applications that run on the platform to track and share users activities, as well.
Following the change, users noticed that the company was collecting data not only when users were logged on, but also when they were visiting other sites online, by way of a Facebook plug-in that continued to operate even when there was no active Facebook session. Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX), co-Chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter in September to the FTC to investigate the company’s use of tracking cookies.
The exact terms of the rumored settlement aren’t known, but reports suggest it would go a long way towards ending those kinds of practices. For one, Facebook would submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years settlement and to get user consent before making retroactive policy changes to its privacy. The agreement will not require users to expressly agree to all changes and feature additions on the site.
Facebook has been the frequent target of privacy complaints from its massive user base, which is subject to spam and other scams. Researchers have also noted how information shared on Facebook and other social networks can be used to link anonymous video and photos with online identities and social graphs.
Those complaints took on new life once Google+ debuted, with its “Circles” feature, that allows users to present different slices of their social profile to different groups of followers. In recent months, Facebook has sought to tamp down with a series of improvements to its security features and strict requirements for Facebook application developers.