Facebook is finalising a settlement with US federal regulators over“deceptive” changes it made to its privacy policies in 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday night.
The proposed settlement, with the US Federal Trade Commission, would resolve the accusations by privacy advocates that Facebook engaged in deceptive behaviour with a number of changes it made in 2009 to privacy settings.
The New York Times reported that the terms would mean that Facebook would have to agree to privacy audits for the next 20 years, but that it would not be required to ask users if they wanted to take part in any future in sharing features.
The 2009 changes required that certain personal profile information, such as a person’s gender and the city they reside in, be viewable to everyone. Previously, Facebook users could limit the people to which that information was visible.
The changes caused an outcry from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union which called the changes flawed and worrisome.
Kevin Bankston, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the time, said: “These new ‘privacy’ changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before.”
Speaking to the New York Times, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, expressed doubts that the settlement would appease critics of Facebook’s data-collection practices.
”The real test of the FTC’s Facebook deal will be whether a user actually has control over their own information, or will this be a tiny digital bump on the road that does nothing to derail Mark Zuckerberg’s voracious appetite to swallow up our data,” he said.
The settlement, which is awaiting final approval by commissioners, would require Facebook to obtain consent from its users for “material retroactive changes”, according to the WSJ report, which cited anonymous sources.
Completing the settlement would ease Facebook’s path to a stock market flotation next year by reducing the amount of uncertainty over unresolved legal issues.
Facebook and the FTC declined to comment.
The settlement would follow a similar agreement between the FTC and search leader Google in March over the latter’s Google Buzz network. In 2010 the FTC settled charges with Twitter, which alleged that the social networking service had failed to safeguard its users’ personal information.
Facebook, the world’s biggest social network with more than 800 million users, has often been criticised for its privacy practices.
The FTC complaints against Facebook were brought by a group of privacy advocacy organisations after the social network introduced new privacy settings in 2009.