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FTC And Facebook Close To Privacy Settlement

November 11, 2011

Facebook is close to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over deceptive practices related to a number of the social network´s features, including privacy settings, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing two people familiar with the matter.

The proposed settlement would resolve the accusations by privacy activists that Facebook has engaged in dishonest behavior with the changes it made to its privacy settings in 2009. The proposal will also give the FTC 20 years of federal oversight of the company´s privacy practices, WSJ said.

The agreement would also prevent Facebook from publicizing any information that a user had originally shared privately on the site without express permission, according to the source. The sources spoke on anonymity because the FTC has not yet approved the settlement.

“This is potentially the most significant action by the FTC on consumer privacy to date,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who urged the FTC investigation.

Facebook´s 2009 privacy changes required that certain personal profile info, such as a user´s gender and city they live in, be viewable to everyone. Before those changes, users could limit the people to which that info was visible. The changes caused an uproar from activists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which said the changes were flawed and bothersome.

“These new ℠privacy´ changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before,” Kevin Bankston, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the time, told the Guardian.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the New York Times that he doubted that the settlement would appease critics of Facebook´s data-collection practices.

“The real test of the FTC´s Facebook deal will be whether a user actually has control over their own information, or will this be a tiny digital bump on the road that does nothing to derail Mark Zuckerberg´s voracious appetite to swallow up our data,” he said.

Facebook´s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has said the company has voluntarily made its privacy settings simpler in the last 18 months, and is trying to reach a settlement with the FTC before the company moves toward an initial public offering (IPO).

“This is part of the balancing act Facebook has to do,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, to The New York Times. “It also needs to settle the privacy complaints in the United States and Europe before its I.P.O.”

“The real test of the FTC´s Facebook deal will be whether a user actually has control over their own information, or will this be a tiny digital bump on the road that does nothing to derail Mark Zuckerberg´s voracious appetite to swallow up our data,” he said.

Facebook has been repeatedly attacked by privacy advocates and politicians for automatically signing people up for new features on the site without asking them first.

The settlement would follow a similar agreement reached between the FTC and search giant Google in March over the Google´s Google Buzz network. The FTC also settled charges with Twitter in 2010 alleging that the micro-blogging service had failed to safeguard its users´ personal information.

It is unclear if Facebook will face monetary damages for its actions. The Wall Street Journal also reported that it was not clear how long it would take for the settlement to complete, citing the unnamed sources.

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Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports



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