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Facebook & FTC Settle on Privacy Issues

Some very good news recently regarding Facebook and their long standing issues with violating people’s privacy. The news is reporting that the FTC and Facebook have come to a settlement regarding Facebook’s disregard for people’s private information (see the article referenced here).

If you are a user of Facebook, privacy has always been an issue. For my part, I am amazed at the amount of personal information people post on Facebook. Even information that could help someone steal a person’s identity (your birthdate, for example). Yet even with people being seemingly unaware of how much information they were giving out, Facebook made itself a lot of enemies over the last few years by revamping their privacy settings for users.

In perhaps the most egregious violation of basic information privacy, on more than one occasion Facebook has made changes to the settings screens that relate to privacy of your data. This in and of itself isn’t bad. What *is* bad is that Facebook defaulted your privacy settings to be “let the whole world see this”…even when it involved data you had previously indicated was not to be shared. In addition, Facebook did what so many companies do today…promised they would not share your personal information with advertisers…and then did so anyway. Of course they did…it was all about the money. Your personal information is valuable to marketing companies, more so now that advanced data mining and analysis techniques have become so powerful.

I recall reading a study a few years ago about privacy statements for different companies. A cursory examination showed that the vast majority of companies simply ignore their privacy statements. Your data is shared with whomever will pay for it. Is this a surprise? Not to me. Corporations are not known for their morals and ethics (though there are some notable welcome exceptions).

The settlement includes the promise by Facebook to make any and all changes in privacy settings be “opt-in” on the part of the user. That is, any changes to privacy settings must be approved by the user. This is great, but I am sad that it has taken two years to get Facebook to agree to do that which it should have done from the beginning.

The settlement also provides for Facebook to be audited for the next twenty years regarding privacy issues. Sadly, there was no information in the article I referenced regarding how this auditing was to take place (which is to say, is it “window dressing” or does the auditing provision have any real “teeth” to it).

There is more that the FTC needs to do to crack-down on such flagrant violations of your privacy, but at least this is a start. I *am* disappointed though that no financial penalty was imposed upon Facebook. Seeing as they profited from their unethical actions, I feel a financial penalty would have been in order.

Since that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, we will just have to hope that Facebook lives up to their word (which given their track record, is not something I would bet the farm on)…

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