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Facebook settles with FTC over privacy violation charges, agrees to 20 years of audits

Facebook staff

Facebook settles with the FTC

In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Facebook for violating users’ privacy and today, a settlement agreement has finally been reached wherein Facebook will be required to undergo audits and periodical assessments of its privacy practices for the next 20 years.

The FTC claimed that Facebook told users their information would be private and guarded, even after an account was deleted, but the information was not kept private, it was shared. Now, under the settlement terms, Facebook must now get express consent from its users before sharing any information outside of that user’s privacy settings, a move which we highly support.

“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.”

All terms of the settlement

The Commission’s vote was unanimous to accept the following settlement terms (in the words of the FTC) wherein Facebook is:

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  1. barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information;
  2. required to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences;
  3. required to prevent anyone from accessing a user’s material more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;
  4. required to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program designed to address privacy risks associated with the development and management of new and existing products and services, and to protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers’ information; and
  5. required, within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, to obtain independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers’ information is protected.

The FTC’s complaint against Facebook

The settlement is in response to the FTC’s complaint that lists the following instances (in the words of the FTC) in which Facebook allegedly broke promises to users:

  1. In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. They didn’t warn users that this change was coming, or get their approval in advance.
  2. Facebook represented that third-party apps that users’ installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need.
  3. Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with “Friends Only.” In fact, selecting “Friends Only” did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.
  4. Facebook had a “Verified Apps” program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn’t.
  5. Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.
  6. Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.
  7. Facebook claimed that it complied with the U.S.- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the U.S. and the European Union. It didn’t.

Written By

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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