Facebook ordered to clean up privacy act

Social network admits mistakes over user information sharing

Stewart Mitchell
30 Nov 2011

Facebook has been forced by the Federal Trade Commission to get consent from subscribers before making changes to privacy settings.

The case dates back to 2009, when a coalition of privacy groups made a complaint about changes to Facebook's privacy settings, which saw user data made available to search engines.

According to the FTC, Facebook has agreed to settle charges that it “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public”.

Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy

"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."

The proposed settlement requires Facebook to take steps to make sure it "lives up to its promises, including giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining consumers' express consent before information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established".

The settlement bars Facebook from making "any further deceptive privacy claims", requires that the company gets consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and forces it to obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Facebook said it had already moved to meet some of the requirements, and admitted it had made mistakes.

"Mistakes made"

“I'm the first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes,” company chief Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post.

“In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we've done.”

Zuckerberg said Facebook had “always been committed to being transparent about the information you have stored with us” but admitted “we can also always do better”.

Facebook also stressed it was not alone in facing censure over its privacy practices and said it would comply with the FTC requirements.

“Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission established agreements with Google and Twitter that are helping to shape new privacy standards for our industry,” Zuckerberg said.

“The FTC announced a similar agreement with Facebook. These agreements create a framework for how companies should approach privacy in the United States and around the world.”

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