Facebook’s Rumored Privacy Settlement With FTC Is Much Ado About Nothing

By David Cohen Comment

When William Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing, he certainly didn’t have Friday’s published reports about a rumored settlement between Facebook and the U.S. government over privacy concerns in mind, but the title fits.

The Wall Street Journal reported that only Federal Trade Commission approval stands between a deal between the social network and the government, in which Facebook agreed to obtain the consent of its users before making “material retroactive changes” to its privacy policies, or sharing data in different ways than users originally agreed to.

A source told the Journal Facebook does not need user approval for all changes on the site: It simply cannot take information that is already available and make it more available without users’ consent.

When it comes to new features, Facebook is free to obtain user consent by whichever methods it chooses.

The WSJ also reported that the social network agreed to submit to independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. Facebook had reportedly been pushing for five years but agreed to 20.

According to the Journal, the reason for the settlement was the uproar over changes Facebook introduced in December 2009, during which information on users such as name, picture, city, gender, and friends automatically defaulted to public unless the users opted out.

A complaint was filed with the FTC, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

If you’re reading all of this and wondering what the big deal is, you’re not alone. Facebook made privacy controls more prominent on its users’ pages in August, and those changes have been very noticeable from a user perspective.

Readers: Do you think Facebook is doing enough to alert its users to their privacy controls and options?