August 11, 2012

FTC Settlement Requires Facebook To Obtain “Express Consent” In Privacy Matters

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Commissioners with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted 3-1 on Friday to finalize a settlement with Facebook over complaints that the popular social network had revealed users' information without their permission, various media outlets have reported.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Facebook agreed that they would allow the government to audit their privacy practices every other year for the next twenty years, but did not admit that they had violated any regulations. They also vowed to ensure that they would receive explicit consent from users before making changes to the type of content it shares.

"This settlement is the end of a process which started in November of 2011, today´s date being the final announcement and cut-off time for Facebook to comply with said orders," SlashGear's Chris Burns explained. "The investigation itself began back in 2009 when initial complains from privacy watchdogs suggested private information was being shared by Facebook from users who had opted out of such activities."

Those complaints are linked to a series of privacy policy changes made by the social media website in late 2009, which automatically shared information and pictures about members (including profile pictures and friends lists) even if access to that data had been previously restricted, the AP said. In the future, any such changes will require the "express consent" of the social network users.

The complaint also accused Facebook of sharing personal information with advertising partners -- which Facebook believes only happened in "limited instances, generally when users clicked on ads that appeared on their personal profile pages," they added. The wire service also pointed out that the dissenting vote was cast by commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissented, partially because it did not require an admission of wrongdoing and partially because of vague working relating to third-party Facebook applications. One commissioner did not participate in the vote.

"We intend to monitor closely Facebook's compliance with the order, and will not hesitate to seek civil penalties for any violations," the FTC commissioners said in a statement, according to CNET columnist Don Reisinger. Such action would include fines of up to $16,000 per offense per day, the AP said.

The Friday settlement came one day after the FTC also came to terms on a privacy issue with Google over the Mountain View, California-based tech giant's alleged tracking of users through the Apple Safari web browser, Reisinger added. Google, however, was also hit with a fine of $22.5 million -- the largest ever handed down by the FTC in a case like this, he said.