FTC Says Facebook Violated Users Privacy

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Facebook deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public. In their complaint, the FTC outlined 8 instances where Facebook violated users’ privacy.  Yesterday, Facebook and the FTC reached a settlement agreement to address these privacy violations.

Some of the more troubling violations were the amount of information available to apps on Facebook. The FTC found even an app with a narrow purpose, such as a quiz regarding a television show, could see a user’s relationship status, as well as every photo and video that the user had uploaded to Facebook. Also, profile privacy settings were ineffective against Friends’ apps. Even if a user had restricted profile information to “Friends Only” or “Friends of Friends”, apps used by “Friends” had access to restricted profile information including birthday, hometown, activities, interests, status updates, marital status, education, place of employment, photos, and videos.

The FTC also discovered if a user deactivated or deleted their account, some of their personal information was still available. Facebook promised users their profile and all information associated with it were immediately made inaccessible to other Facebook users once deactivated. However, Facebook continued to display users’ photos and videos. For kids, who attempted to control their information by using the Facebook Super Log Off , this continued access rendered this technique useless.

Under the settlement agreement, Facebook must provide notice and consent before information is shared beyond the selected privacy settings. This includes information shared with third-party app developers and advertisers. In response to the settlement, Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the Facebook blog, ” I founded Facebook on the idea that people want to share and connect with people in their lives, but to do this everyone needs complete control over who they share with at all times.

Kids want to share updates, photos, videos and play apps.  But they also want control over who they share with and who has access to their information. Unfortunately even when kids do everything they can, their information can still be abused. Without meaningful privacy control, Facebook may end up with users so self-conscious and inhibited that it will cease to be about sharing and become just babbling.