FTC and Facebook settle privacy dispute, skip the fine

Well, Mark Zuckerberg is finally trying to make things right after admitting to a "bunch of mistakes" when dealing with user privacy on his juggernaut of a social network. The FTC and Facebook had agreed to settle the dispute in November, and now the final details of the deal have been ironed out. Noticeably missing from the list of concessions is cash. The government isn't asking Facebook to cough up any dough as part of the settlement -- avoiding the sort of hefty fine that Google recently found itself on the wrong end of. The company will, however, have drastically revamp how it handles user data and subject itself to privacy audits every two years for 20 years. Customers will now be provided with "clear and prominent" warnings any time information is shared. And, before anything can be shared, users must give express consent to for that information to be distributed. Ideally, these measures would have been in place on day one, but we'll take what we can get at this point. For more details, check out the FTC's press release after the break.

Show full PR text

FTC Approves Final Settlement With Facebook
Facebook Must Obtain Consumers' Consent Before Sharing Their Information Beyond Established Privacy Settings
Following a public comment period, the FTC has accepted as final a settlement with Facebook resolving charges that Facebook 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 settlement requires Facebook to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including by giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining their express consent before sharing their information beyond their privacy settings, by maintaining a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumers' information, and by obtaining biennial privacy audits from an independent third party.

The Commission vote to approve the final order and letters to members of the public who commented on it was 3-1-1 with Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissenting and Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen not participating. The Commission issued a statement authored by Chairman Jon D. Leibowitz and Commissioners Edith Ramirez and Julie Brill. The Commission statement affirmed that, based on the extensive investigation of the staff, there is a strong reason to believe that the settlement is in the public interest, and that the Order's provisions make clear that Facebook will be liable for a broad range of deceptive conduct. As set forth in his separate statement, Commissioner Rosch dissented from the acceptance of the final consent order, questioning whether Facebook's express denial of liability provided "a reason to believe" that the settlement was "in the interest of the public" and expressing concern that the final consent order may not unequivocally cover all representations made in the Facebook environment. (FTC File No. 092-3184; the staff contact is Laura Berger, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-460-8364; see press release dated November 29, 2011.)

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.