See David Vladeck speaking about privacy policies below:
With that in mind, we welcome the FTC's latest victim: Facebook.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is close to settling with the FTC over charges that it wasn't forthcoming with users about how it was using their information. According to the report, if the FTC approves the pact set forth by Facebook, the company will have to "obtain users' consent before making 'material retroactive changes' to its privacy policies."
So if Facebook is going to make a change that alters what members originally agreed to when signing up, it will have to obtain user agreement first. This likely means that many of Facebook's "features" that were previoulsy "opt-out" only will now be "opt-in."
Though this sounds reasonable, any Facebook user knows it's also out of step with how Facebook has typically operated. In the past, it was more like, "Uh, did you not want that information you'd locked down with the strictest privacy settings exposed to the entire Web through Google search? Oh, well!"
It's that lax attitude toward sharing users' information that the FTC is fighting. Privacy groups filed a complaint with the commission after Facebook enacted a change in December 2009 that suddenly made users' information, including profile photos, city/state, gender, Friends, and interests, public by default.
Under the terms of this agreement, says the WSJ, changes like that won't be allowed anymore without user consent, and Facebook (like Google) will have to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years.
Here's where we take a little break to laugh: Haaaaahahahahhahahahahahahahahaha!
OK. That's done. Back to business.
With the terms still being finalized, it's worth considering what the implications of this change will mean for Facebook and other Web service operators, evil masterminds, etc.
For starters, forcing Facebook to be candid with changes to its policies (which, whether Zuck admits it or not, are all made for the company's financial gain), and getting users to agree to such changes before they're put in place, may determine whether the company can continue to thrive financially. Does Facebook still have a working business model when it can no longer open a back door and let out all its users' data? We shall see.
Second, by going after Google and Facebook, the government has made it clear that it is invested in involving itself in all matters digital. This could result in us seeing a major change to the way the Web 2.0 world operates. Social startups and other companies making their millions (er, hundreds?) off user data should heed these settlements with Facebook and Google as warnings.
In other words, the message is as follows: Nothing is constant in the digital world. As technology evolves, the rules evolve, too, and the FTC's actions strongly suggest that the age of robbing users of their "privacy" -- whatever that means in this era of relentless public declarations -- is coming to an end.
— Nicole Ferraro , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution