Privacy Officer's Roundtable

F.T.C. Settles Privacy Issue at Facebook

  • 1.  F.T.C. Settles Privacy Issue at Facebook

    Posted 11-30-2011 12:02 PM
    This message has been cross posted to the following eGroups: Privacy Officer's Roundtable and Social Media Compliance .

    SAN FRANCISCO - Accusing Facebook of engaging in "unfair and deceptive" practices, the federal government on Tuesday announced a broad settlement that requires the company to respect the privacy wishes of its users and subjects it to regular privacy audits for the next 20 years.

    The order, announced by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, stems largely from changes that Facebook made to the way it handled its users' information in December 2009. The commission contended that Facebook, without warning its users or seeking consent, made public information that users had deemed to be private on their Facebook pages.

    The order also said that Facebook, which has more than 800 million users worldwide, in some cases had allowed advertisers to glean personally identifiable information when a Facebook user clicked on an advertisement on his or her Facebook page. The company has long maintained that it does not share personal data with advertisers.

    And the order said that Facebook had shared user information with outside application developers, contrary to representations made to its users. And even after a Facebook user deleted an account, according to the F.T.C., the company still allowed access to photos and videos.

    All told, the commission listed eight complaints. It levied no fines and did not accuse Facebook of intentionally breaking the law. However, if Facebook violated the terms of the settlement in the future, it would be liable to pay a penalty of $16,000 a day for each count, the F.T.C. said.

    Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, conceded in a lengthy blog post that the company had made "a bunch of mistakes," but said it had already fixed several of the issues cited by the commission.

    "Facebook has always been committed to being transparent about the information you have stored with us - and we have led the Internet in building tools to give people the ability to see and control what they share," he wrote. By way of example, Mr. Zuckerberg pointed to more explicit privacy controls that the company introduced over the summer.

    Facebook has long wanted its users to post content - links, opinions, pictures and other data - on their Facebook pages with minimal effort, or "friction," as company executives call it. The settlement with the F.T.C. will undoubtedly require it to introduce more such friction.

    The order requires Facebook to obtain its users' "affirmative express consent" before it can override their own privacy settings. For example, if a user designated certain content to be visible only to "friends," Facebook could allow that content to be shared more broadly only after obtaining the user's permission.

    On Tuesday evening there seemed to be some disagreement about what the agreement entailed. A Facebook spokesman said in response to a question that it did not require the company to obtain "opt in" data-sharing permission for new products.

    But David Vladeck, director of the bureau of consumer protection at the F.T.C., said Facebook would have to inform its users about how personal data would be shared even with new products and services that it introduces over the next two decades. "The order is designed to protect people's privacy, anticipating that Facebook is likely to change products and services it offers," he said.

    Ever since its public release in 2004, Facebook has drawn an ever-larger number of members, even as its sometimes aggressive approach to changes around privacy have angered some of its users.



    Eric Newman, Esq., CCEP
    Social Media Manager
    SCCE Membership