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Facebook has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived its users and failed to keep their information private, agreeing on Tuesday to establish a comprehensive privacy program that includes independent audits for the next 20 years.
The FTC alleged that Facebook violated the FTC Act, which bars unfair and deceptive conduct, by falsely promising consumers that their information would be kept private. "On numerous occasions, Facebook violated its privacy commitments to hundreds of millions of users," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz in a conference call with reporters.
For example, the FTC alleged that Facebook changed its Web site in December 2009 so that previously private information, such as friend lists, were made public without warning users in advance or seeking their approval. Facebook also failed to reveal that third-party apps could access nearly all of users' personal data. Facebook also promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers, but did so nonetheless. The company also claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had quit.
The settlement bars Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requires that the company get consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.
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