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    FTC Announces Proposed Settlement with Facebook Over Charges That It Deceived Consumers About Privacy

    The Federal Trade Commission announced a proposed settlement with social-networking site Facebook over charges that it deceived users about privacy protections:

    The social networking service Facebook has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it 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 proposed settlement requires Facebook to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining consumers’ express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established. […]

    The FTC complaint lists a number of instances in which Facebook allegedly made promises that it did not keep: […]

    • 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 promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did. […]
    • 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 proposed settlement bars Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requires that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

    Specifically, under the 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 no 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.

    There are other requirements, as well. Read the full proposed settlement here (pdf). The public can comment on the settlement through Dec. 30.

    “Interested parties can submit comments online or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.”

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