Report: Facebook, FTC close to settlement on privacy

Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are reportedly close to a settlement on privacy, related to changes the company made to its policies. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company will have to agree to independent privacy audits in a settlement that is similar to the agreement the agency reached with Google over its Buzz social network this past spring. Google landed in hot water when the agency questioned whether or not its sharing features on the now-defunct Google Buzz social network were “deceptive” because they did not clearly define how the service would share personal data.

Similar complaints were leveled at Facebook. In December 2009, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy advocates filed a complaint with FTC saying that Facebook’s changes to its privacy policies disclosed “personal information to third parties that was previously not available” and that those changes violated user expectations of the service.

Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment on the report.

The company has come under scrutiny from privacy regulators and privacy advocates for changes it has made to its social network — particularly policies related to how users can share content on the Web site. In December 2009, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy advocates filed a complaint with FTC saying that Facebook’s changes to its privacy policies disclosed “personal information to third parties that was previously not available” and that those changes violated user expectations of the service.

“It's been almost two years since a coalition of U.S. consumer and privacy groups first filed this complaint with the FTC concerning Facebook's changes to its users' privacy setting. It's nice to see there may finally be action by the Commission,” said EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg.

Privacy advocates have called for the FTC to look into other aspects of Facebook’s impact on consumer privacy, including accusations that the company is tracking users across the Web. The social network recently beefed up its staff in Washington, D.C. with the addition of the privacy-focused hire of Erin Egan, a former partner and co-chair of Covington & Burling’s global privacy and data security practice.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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