Creativity is just connecting things.
— Steve Jobs

Facebook and the FTC

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Facebook engaged in the following activities:

  • 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 U.S.- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the U.S. and the European Union. It didn’t.

This has resulted in a staggering settlement:

Under the terms of the settlement Facebook must obtain approval from users before making changes to the way their personal data is shared on the network. For the next 20 years, Facebook must also submit to scheduled checkups by “independent, third-party auditors” to ensure that the company’s privacy policies and practices do not violate users’ rights.

One has to wonder just what the harsher side of the settlement deal was from the FTC, assuming this is a middle ground. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out not just in Facebook, but also Google+.

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