Zuckerberg recommits to Facebook privacy policy after FTC lashing

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg promises to update and re-examine the social media site’s privacy policy after the FTC flags its information-sharing practices.

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CEO and President Mark Zuckerberg has promised to recommit to and continuously update the Facebook privacy policy after coming to a preliminary settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over what were deemed “deceptive” practices.

In a blog post earlier this week, Zuckerberg announced new tools and resources to improve privacy for Facebook users, and added that he is “committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.”

“Today's announcement formalizes our commitment to providing you with control over your privacy and sharing -- and it also provides protection to ensure that your information is only shared in the way you intend,” Zuckerberg wrote in the post. “As the founder and CEO of Facebook, I look forward to working with the commission as we implement this agreement.”

The FTC will publish a description of Facebook’s consent agreement package in the Federal Register, and the agreement will be subject to public comment through Dec. 30. The commission will then decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.

The FTC complaint states that there were several examples of Facebook making privacy-related promises to users that it did not keep. For example, the FTC claims that Facebook shared users’ personal information with advertisers, despite telling them that it would not. Another example given was Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. However, Facebook allowed access to the content even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts, according to the FTC.

The proposed FTC settlement would:

  • Bar Facebook from making deceptive privacy claims;
  • Require the company to get consumers' approval before changing the way it shares their data;
  • Stipulate that Facebook conduct periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.
Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman, Federal Trade Commission

"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."

In his blogged response to the FTC settlement, Zuckerberg noted that in the past 18 months, Facebook has debuted 20 tools and resources designed to give users more control over their experiences on the social media website. These new tools include double login approval, privacy education resources for users and the ability to review tags made by others before they appear in user profiles.

Zuckerberg also claims Facebook had already proactively addressed many of the privacy concerns raised by the FTC. For example, the FTC complaint noted that Facebook claimed its "Verified Apps" program certified the security of participating applications, even though it did not do so. Zuckerberg said Facebook canceled Verfied Apps in December 2009.

“The same complaint also mentions cases where advertisers inadvertently received the ID numbers of some users in referrer URLs,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We fixed that problem over a year ago in May 2010.”

New measures for Facebook privacy policy

In response to the FTC complaint, Facebook is creating two chief privacy officer positions -- for both policy and products. Zuckerberg said the additions will strengthen processes that ensure that privacy control is built into Facebook’s products and policies.

Zuckerberg added that the company is establishing a biennial independent audit of Facebook privacy policy practices to ensure that it’s meeting the FTC commitments.

“In addition to these product changes, the FTC also recommended improvements to our internal processes,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We've embraced these ideas, too, by agreeing to improve and formalize the way we do privacy review as part of our ongoing product development process.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, Associate Editor.

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