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FTC gives final approval to Facebook privacy settlement

However, Facebook denies the allegations and makes no admission of guilt

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has approved a settlement with Facebook related to charges that the social networking leader deceived consumers regarding the privacy of their data.

The settlement stipulates that Facebook must obtain users' consent before sharing their information "beyond established privacy settings."

However, the settlement also states that Facebook denies the FTC's allegations and makes no admission of guilt.

The settlement was proposed in November of last year, and went through a public comment period.

The FTC alleged that Facebook told its users that they could keep their information on the site private, but then "repeatedly" allowed 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 FTC said in a statement on Friday.

Three of the commissioners voted to approve the settlement, while Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissented. Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen didn't participate in the vote.

Rosch said in a separate statement that he voted against approval because he objects to allowing Facebook to deny guilt, and because he's not sure that the agreement covers deceptive practices both by Facebook and by third-party applications on its platform.

The FTC said that there is "a strong reason to believe" that the settlement serves the public interest because it makes Facebook liable to civil lawsuits "for a broad range of deceptive conduct."

Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit privacy advocate Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said the organization supports the final settlement but with some reservations.

"The FTC could have done more to protect Facebook users. Most significantly, Facebook should have been required to restore the original privacy settings of users" that it changed in 2009, he said via email.

Asked for comment, a Facebook spokesman said via email that the company is "pleased" that the settlement has received final approval.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.


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