Facebook has FTC privacy pie shoved down its throat

Mark Zuckerberg’s data harvesting website, Facebook, has agreed to the US Federal Trade Commission’s 20 year privacy settlement.

The FTC in late 2009 claimed that Facebook had acted irresponsibly when it turned on a number of profile features as public by default, including name, picture, gender and friends list, the Wall Street Journal reports.

One problem is the way Facebook deals with defaults. When it brings in new features, it does so quietly – but then asks that users turn the features off rather than on. This too drew the ire of the FTC, which has ruled that Facebook must submit to independent privacy audits every two years, over the next 20 years. 

Zuckerbook was charged with eight counts of user privacy which it described as “unfair and deceptive”. That included Facebook’s reassurances about introducing additional privacy tools which, in the end, didn’t do much in the way of privacy. Facebook’s promise about third party apps only looking at what they need to run didn’t happen either. Crucially, Facebook was up against allegations that it didn’t delete user details – including photos – when it promised to.

If Facebook screws up in the privacy audits, the WSJ reports that it could be fined $16,000 per day per violation. Despite the company’s enormous wealth, that amount of money would not  resemble water off a duck’s back. 

Facebook must now explicitly ask users for their permission to enable new features. It’s probably banking on the lazy majority to click yes so they can zoom through to their notifications.  But it can be no coincidence that Facebook is so prepared to roll back and accept the FTC’s lofty – and lengthy – requirements. 

It’s rumoured that Facebook is readying itself for an initial public offering at $10 billion, potentially nabbing it an overall value of roughly $100 billion. If Facebook doesn’t go for the IPO, it would be forced to disclose its financials anyway as its shareholders number reaches the limit, so it’s a move that makes sense.

However, says the WSJ, investors have been worried about Facebook’s bizarre ideas about privacy. The agreement with the FTC could go some way to easing those fears.

Facebook faces scrutiny over its privacy practices in the EU, too, as it operates from Ireland.

Though privacy penalties doled out by Ireland would not cost Facebook much, in October this year some students highlighted just how much data the company holds on you. If you live in the EU, under EU rules you can strong-arm Facebook into handing over all the data it has on you – and it’s a lot whether you’ve deleted it or not.