Facebook Dodges Fine in Privacy Settlement with FTC

Paul Lilly

In a 3-1-1 vote (three approvals, one dissent, and one not participating), the Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) has accepted final terms of a settlement with Facebook to resolve charges that the social networking site engaged in deceptive privacy practices. Terms of the settlement do include a monetary fine, as was the case with Google, which agreed to pay a record $22.5 million penalty to the FTC to settle a different set of alleged privacy violations.

So, what's the point of the settlement? According to the FTC , Facebook is required to take a series of steps to ensure it doesn't stray from best privacy practices in the future. One of these steps includes "giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining their express consent before sharing their information beyond their privacy settings." Facebook also agreed to maintain a comprehensive privacy program to protect its subscribers, and must submit to biennial privacy audits conducted by an independent third party.

The whole thing started in 2009 when consumer advocacy groups accused Facebook of sharing user information that had been set to private. Privacy advocates also took exception to third-party apps on Facebook being able to access personal data.

As was the case with Google, Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch was the sole dissenter primarily because he doesn't believe Facebook (or Google) should be allowed to settle without admitting liability for what it's done. There's no admission of guilt by either company, only a settlement to make the charges go away, and that, according to Rosch, is not in the best interest of the public.

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