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Facebook Settles FTC Charges Over Privacy Concerns

You’ve surely heard the cries of the Facebook masses bemoaning the constantly changing privacy settings on the social networking site. It’s one of the deep ironies of the internet using public networks to discuss your life but wanting to keep SOME things private.

Well, apparently the FTC heard these complaints and issued an eight-count complaint against Facebook for not living up to privacy promises. In the complaint the FTC states, as far as this non-lawyer can tell, that the privacy statements made by Facebook were either unclear or directly false because even if you had things marked private both apps and advertisers could access the private information. To read the full account of the charges, you can read the actual document here.

In settling the case, Facebook has actually admitted some errors. In his post-settlement statement, Mark Zuckerberg (founder and CEO of Facebook) said:

…I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes. In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon, four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we’ve done.

Basically, in 2009 Facebook made a serious of changes to the site that included changes to privacy settings and failed to notify users adequately that they had done so. The settlement, as it stands, requires much from Facebook now, including an independent audit within 180 days that shows they are meeting or exceeding the FTC requirements for privacy.

I think we’ll be seeing some changes at Facebook soon.

There are worries that these changes might “ruin” Facebook; in his article at Mashable, Lance Ulanoff brought up a great point about the fact that Facebook may now see a slow-down in innovation as a result of this massive amount of oversight. He goes on to lay the blame for this fully on the users of Facebook, highlighting that incongruity I mentioned earlier: Facebook users wanting strict privacy controls on a public page in a social network.

This is your fault. Well, not yours exactly, but every single person who complained about privacy breaches as if someone was stealing their baby. You joined Facebook by the millions (along with a number of other prominent social networks) and have fully embraced all that they give you: new connections, more consistent interaction with close and distant relatives, discovery, entertainment and games, and a way to see your life as never before (you really need to check out Timeline). Yet, for every Facebook privacy misstep you sought to take Facebook and Zuckerberg to the woodshed.

We’ll have to wait and see, of course, how this ruling will eventually impact Facebook at large. But what do you think? Is this good news for social networks, or will this make Facebook less versatile and appealing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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