Many Facebook users have been disgruntled about the sudden and frequent changes to their privacy setting on the social networking site. That may be about to change as Facebook has just settled a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission amidst claims that they told users that information they shared on the site would remain private, then allowed the information to become public.
Some of the claims the FTC alleged that Facebook did not keep are:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Facebook had a "Verified Apps" program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn't.
- Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.
- 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.
- 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.
The complaints that the FTC has filed against Facebook are part of their efforts to ensure that companies uphold the privacy policies that they promote to their consumers and to protect the interests of their consumers. According to them, Facebook was, “unfair, deceptive, and violated Federal law.”
The new proposed settlement with the FTC bans Facebook from making any further privacy claims that are unfounded and requires that they obtain users permission before it changes the way their information is shared on the site. The settlement also requires that Facebook, “obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.”
Under the new proposed settlement, Facebook is:
- barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers' personal information;
- required to obtain consumers' affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences;
- required to prevent anyone from accessing a user's material more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;
- 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
- 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.