Facebook faces 20 years of privacy audits

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Zuckerburg defends Facebook's track record.

Facebook has settled with the US Federal Trade Commission over charges it tricked consumers into thinking they could keep their information private. 

The proposed settlement prevents Facebook from making deceptive claims about the level of privacy and security it offers users, and will force the social network to undertake independent audits for the next 20 years.

In a blog post on Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg defended the company's record on transparency and privacy, but admitted it had "made a bunch of mistakes" and a "small number of high profile" ones such as Beacon.

"Facebook has always been committed to being transparent about the information you have stored with us – and we have led the internet in building tools to give people the ability to see and control what they share," wrote Zuckerberg.  

"But we can also always do better."

The settlement was on par with the watchdog's previous agreements with Twitter and Google.  

In response to the settlement Facebook will beef up the role of privacy within the company with the appointment of chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, and chief privacy officer for products, Michael Richter.

 The FTC's list of accusations include:

  • In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. They didn't warn users that this change was coming, or get their approval in advance.
  • Facebook represented that third-party apps that users installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users' personal data – data the apps didn't need.
  • Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with "Friends Only." In fact, selecting "Friends Only" did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.
  • Facebook had a "Verified Apps" program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn't.
  • Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.
  • Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.
  • Facebook claimed that it complied with the US- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the US and the European Union. It didn't.

The settlements means that Facebook is: 

  • barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers' personal information;
  • required to obtain consumers' affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences;
  • required to prevent anyone from accessing a user's material no more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;
  • required to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program designed to address privacy risks associated with the development and management of new and existing products and services, and to protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers' information; and
  • required, within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, to obtain independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers' information is protected.

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