Facebook has settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission that it deceived users by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private and then repeatedly making it public, according to the agency.
The settlement of an eight-count complaint requires Facebook to warn users about privacy changes and to get their permission before sharing their information more broadly, according to the FTC. Facebook has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits, it said.
"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said in a written statement. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."
In a blog post, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is committed to giving its users "complete control" over what they share and with whom.
"I also understand that many people are just naturally skeptical of what it means for hundreds of millions of people to share so much personal information online, especially using any one service. Even if our record on privacy were perfect, I think many people would still rightfully question how their information was protected. It's important for people to think about this, and not one day goes by when I don't think about what it means for us to be the stewards of this community and their trust," he wrote. "I'm committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy."
Facebook also has created two new positions to make sure it takes privacy seriously, Zuckerberg said.
Erin Egan, a former partner with Covington & Burling, will become chief privacy officer for policy. Michael Richter, Facebook’s chief privacy counsel, will take on a new role as chief privacy officer for products.
Privacy watchdog Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the settlement shows that Facebook "has long misled users and the public."
But another frequent critic, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), applauded the settlement.
"The settlement's privacy protections will benefit Facebook users and should serve as a new, higher standard for other companies to follow in their own efforts to protect consumers' privacy online," Markey said in a written statement. "When it comes to its users' privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: ‘Ask for permission, don’t assume it."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg greets a student as he arrives to speak at Harvard University. Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard in 2004, met with students as part of an East Coast trip to recruit for the social networking company. Photo credit: Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg