NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Facebook has settled charges leveled by the Federal Trade Commission that it repeatedly deceived customers into thinking they had more privacy on the social network than they really did, the FTC announced Tuesday.
As part of the settlement, Facebook is required to take several key steps to boost privacy protections including getting the explicit consent of its users each time the original privacy conditions are changed and preventing anyone from accessing personal information from an account that has been deactivated for 30 days or more.
Facebook must also create a ”comprehensive privacy program” outlining how it will protect users’ personal information going forward, and the company will need to have an independent group evaluate that program in the next six months and every two years after that to ensure that it meets the terms of the settlement.
The FTC’s initial complaint against Facebook included eight different instances when the company claimed it would protect users’ privacy, but didn’t. Most commonly, this involved the company sharing user data with advertisers and third-party applications. For example, Facebook told users that opting to make data public to “friends only” would keep it private from everyone else, but users’ personal information was still shared with third-party applications. Facebook also assured users that their personal data would be inaccessible once an account had been deactivated, but in reality the company allowed others to continue accessing this content.
"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, in a statement announcing the settlement. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."
The news comes on the heels of renewed rumors that Facebook is preparing to become a public company as soon as next year.