Facebook may Change Privacy Policies as FTC Settlement Nears

  on November 11 2011 5:51 AM
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Facebook is in talks with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to reach a settlement over changes to its privacy policies enacted two years ago, according to media reports.

The social networking site is settling users' privacy claims that it alllegedly violated when it changed default privacy settings to disclose more information than was previously made public, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the negotiations. The deal would also compel an annual, independent review of Facebook’s privacy practices.

The proposed 20-year settlement would require Facebook to obtain users' consent before making material retroactive changes to its privacy policies, the Wall Street Journal reported. It means Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., must get consent to share data on terms that  differ from how those user originally accepted.

''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, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told The New York Times.

A group of privacy advocacy organizations brought the FTC complaints against Facebook after the social networking site introduced the new privacy settings in 2009.

Facebook founder Zuckerberg told a live audience in January the world has changed, that it's become more public and less private and that the controversial new default and permanent settings reflect how the site would work if he were to create it today.

The new privacy settings made certain personal information, such as gender and hometown, viewable to everyone. Earlier, users could keep others from viewing the information.

The FTC’s action is long overdue, Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Bloomberg. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the commission has to announce its final decision in this matter. The changes in Facebook privacy settings have continued to be the most frustrating online experience for Internet users.

Facebook, the world's No. 1 social networking site, has often been criticized for its privacy policies. The settlement would follow a similar agreement between the FTC and search giant Google in March. In 2010, the FTC settled charges that Twitter had failed to safeguard its users' personal information.

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