Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Facebook privacy practices get FTC shakeup

Facebook privacy practices get FTC shakeup


The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Facebook said today that they have reached an agreement to settle a complaint about privacy concerns that includes a promise that the popular social network will get express permission before overriding users' privacy settings and disclose what information is shared with third parties.

"The FTC alleges numerous violations of the FTC Act, which prohibits deceptive or unfair acts or practices," Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said in a conference call. "The most important thing is to ensure consumer privacy going forward, and we believe this order does that."

A seemingly contrite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted making mistakes. "Overall, I think we have a good history of providing transparency and control over who can see your information," wrote in a blog post. "That said, I'm the first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes. 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."

Although Facebook has agreed to change its privacy practices, it did not acknowledge that it violated any law and the settlement notes that the company "expressly denies" the FTC's allegations.
The eight-count complaint alleges that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public," the agency said in a statement.

For instance, the complaint says Facebook made changes in December 2009 that exposed to the public information users previously set to private, such as "Friends List," without warning users that the change was coming or getting their approval in advance. Facebook also represented that third-party apps would have access only to user information that the app needed to operate when in fact the apps could access nearly all of the users' personal data, the FTC said. Also, Facebook told users they could restrict data sharing to certain groups of people, such as "Friends Only," but then allowed the information to be shared with third-party apps friends used, according to the complaint.