One day after the Federal Trade Commission announced a multimillion-dollar penalty for Google in a settlement over online privacy, the same agency agreed Friday to accept a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations.
In Facebook's case, the governmental agency contended that the popular social network had exposed information about its users without the consent that was legally required.
Deal in November
Facebook is not admitting any wrongdoing, but it will submit to governmental audits over three years related to how it handles members' privacy. Additionally, it has agreed to obtain users' approval before making user information public that users had previously decided should be private.
The settlement deal had originally been reached and announced in November. The FTC complaint was based on changes the site made to its privacy controls in the latter part of 2009.
Those changes made information and photos about Facebook users available for sharing, even though some users had selected privacy settings that would have kept that material confidential. The material included profile images, names of online friends and political views.
Additionally, the FTC said that Facebook shared personal information from users with advertisers for two years ending in 2010, although it had publicly said it was not doing so. Facebook had contended that this sharing of information with advertisers was not frequent, and was limited to situations where users clicked on profile page ads. Most clicks occur when ads are shown on the Wall, the site said.
From now on, Facebook will need to give what the agency called "clear and prominent notice" to users, and will need to receive "express consent" from its users, before taking actions that make public material the users have indicated they want to keep private.
The Google Settlement
The FTC is on a roll. On Thursday, the federal agency announced that Google had agreed to pay a $22.5 million civil penalty, as settlement for charges related to tracking users of Apple's Safari browser. The fine is the largest ever imposed by the FTC for violation of one of its orders.
In announcing the settlement, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement that the "record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order." He added that every company, "no matter how big or small," must abide by the FTC orders and their "privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place."
The FTC order that the agency said was violated was its October 2011 settlement with Google, which extends for 20 years. Its terms prevent the technology company from misrepresenting the degree of control that consumers might have over their personal information.
That settlement was primarily the result of charges that Google had used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises in the launch of the now-defunct Buzz social network.