Facebook Agrees To Submit To Independent Privacy Audits For The Next 20 Years

from the bait-and-switch dept

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook and the FTC are finalizing a settlement agreement regarding some of Facebook's numerous past privacy flubs. The WSJ reports:

According to people familiar with the talks, the settlement would require Facebook to obtain users' consent before making "material retroactive changes" to its privacy policies. That means that Facebook must get consent to share data in a way that is different from how the user originally agreed the data could be used.

The thing is, that's already the rule. While there's no law that specifically says a company like Facebook can't retroactively change the way it uses user information, the FTC treats it as an unfair and deceptive trade practice - kind of like a bait-and-switch. You decide you're comfortable putting information like your gender and dating status on your Facebook page because Facebook promised it would only show that stuff to your friends. And then it goes and makes it all public: Bait and switch.

Since we don't have comprehensive privacy laws in the US, the only real way to hold companies like Facebook to their word when they say things like "your information is private" is to approach it from a consumer protection angle. Lying to your users about how their personal information is going to be used (or changing your mind later and not telling anyone) is unfair and deceptive, and is exactly the type of thing the FTC can address through fines.

So, making Facebook agree to get express consent before making material retroactive changes to its privacy policies is a bit like making it write "I will not chew gum in class" fifty times on the blackboard before it can go out to recess. The really interesting part of the settlement agreement is that, like Google did in the Buzz settlement, and Twitter did concerning its security, Facebook is agreeing to submit to independent privacy audits for the next twenty years.

My hope for the long term outcome of this settlement agreement is that Facebook will be more upfront and transparent about their privacy practices, and not pull the bait-and-switch move on privacy that they've become known for. Hopefully, this will in turn lead to fewer Facebook-privacy-policy-instigated Chicken-Little-style paranoia outbreaks.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Fushta (profile), Nov 11th, 2011 @ 7:00am

    20 Years?

    FB will be around of the next 20 years? Pffft.

    Honestly, though, I don't have a FB account for this very reason (their only reason for being in existence is to trade private data as a commodity).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2011 @ 7:02am

    Logic much?

    Why isn't Google, Apple, Microsoft put in the same category? All these companies maintain databases on users, the only difference is Facebook's database is mostly public...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Overcast (profile), Nov 11th, 2011 @ 7:05am

    What about the company that audits them, what data might they have access to, and what is their privacy policy?

    This means a third party will be nosing around on Facebook's internal side - so does that mean less or more privacy?

    To be honest; I don't trust them and I won't - I have a page, with some general info, but I don't get too specific or use it to communicate by and large. Typically any communications I send on Facebook are very general.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), Nov 11th, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Re: Logic much?

    It appears Google does have a similar audit happening, from the WSJ Blog:
    "The move comes as the Federal Trade Commission, which has yet to approve the settlement, and other government agencies and lawmakers demonstrate an increased willingness to hold companies more accountable for the personal information they own or share. Over the last several months the FTC has foisted privacy audits on Twitter and Google as well."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2011 @ 8:20am

    Re: 20 Years?

    Was going to say the same thing. Most people I know are sick of Facebook and want to switch but there's no other option ATM. Facebook will be a shell of itself in 5 years. Book it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Stuart, Nov 11th, 2011 @ 8:26am

    Personal does not mean what you think it means

    When you hand over your "Personal Data" to someone else it ceases to be personal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Nov 11th, 2011 @ 10:36am

    Between the privacy debacle (all of them) and the fact that they kept changing the way my page worked -- they have control over my priorities, and kept shoving that into my face -- I got pissed off and stopped visiting.

    So, you insist that I MUST view "hottest topics" first, in spite of the fact that I want to sort by date? Fuck off, FB.

    I have friends begging me to change my privacy settings because suddenly my settings affect their privacy (and they now default to "share all my friends' most intimate details with the whole world)? Jesus, FB, can you fail harder please?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    nasch (profile), Nov 11th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Chicken Little?

    Hopefully, this will in turn lead to fewer Facebook-privacy-policy-instigated Chicken-Little-style paranoia outbreaks.

    More importantly, it may help alleviate the real and legitimate privacy concerns around Facebook. There's no need to invoke paranoia here: they really are out to get/sell all the information about you they can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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