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Facebook considering privacy settlement with FTC

November 11, 2011|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco —  

Facebook Inc. is looking at settling with the Federal Trade Commission, which has been probing allegations that the social networking site deceived users when it changed its privacy settings.

The proposed settlement would require Facebook to get consent from users if it makes changes that are retroactive, according to a person with knowledge of the talks but was not authorized to discuss it with the media. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the possible settlement Thursday.

As part of the settlement, which is in part based on a complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Facebook would have to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years.

The settlement is awaiting final approval from the agency commissioners. Google Inc. agreed to a similar settlement in March and agreed to audits.

Spokesmen for Facebook and the FTC declined to comment.

The investigation began in December 2009 when Facebook changed its privacy settings, making parts of users' profiles — such as name, photo, gender and friends — public by default.

"The pending settlement must put users in charge of their Facebook information, putting an end to an out-of-control data-gobbling social media monster," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "But the FTC's consent decree has to be more than words — it needs to ensure new rights for consumers in the social media era."

Separately, German authorities said Thursday that they are considering suing Facebook over its use of facial recognition technology.

Johannes Caspar, data protection commissioner for the German state of Hamburg, said he would fine Facebook for ignoring a deadline he set to remove the feature.

Facebook says the feature complies with German law because users can disable it. "We believe that any legal action is completely unnecessary," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an emailed statement.

Also Thursday, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain a February patent application they say raises alarm bells about how Facebook tracks users on other websites.

"Some people have suggested that this application is intended to patent tracking of logged-out users. Nothing could be further from the truth," Noyes said.

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