The Federal Trade Commission finalized a settlement between Facebook and users that felt some of the social network's practices were shady.
Facebook didn't admit wrongdoing, but did agreed to submit to government audits of its privacy practices every other year for the next 20 years and said it would get approval from the FTC before making changes to its privacy policies in the future.
This settlement has been in the works since November and is similar to the settlements reached with Google and MySpace in the past.
The Melo Park-based social network will now have to give users "clear and prominent notice" regarding any change to their information's privacy and it will also have to gain users' consent before sharing their information. Facebook will also be required to maintain a comprehensive privacy program to protect its users.
The timing of this action is also interesting because came a day after the FTC fined Google $22.5 million to resolve allegations that Google failed to follow along with their earlier settlement.
When you consider that Facebook is the largest social network with hundred of millions of US citizens blindly agreeing to privacy policies, this is an important first step in securing the data of most of the country.
The FTC’s privacy order, which was approved on a 3-1 vote, also covers third-party apps, which are growing rapidly on the service and have long-been pretty open.
Most of the concern that the FTC had with Facebook's policies rooted back to changes made in 2009, which automatically shared information and pictures about Facebook users, even if they previously programmed their privacy settings to shield the content. Among other things, people's profile pictures, lists of online friends and political views were suddenly available for the world to see, the FTC alleged.
Violations of this new settlement will be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per day for each infringement -- that adds up really fast with upwards of 200 million US users.
“We intend to monitor closely Facebook’s compliance with the order and will not hesitate to seek civil penalties for any violations,” said the FTC in a statement.
“These provisions make clear that Facebook will be liable for conduct by apps that contradicts Facebook’s promises about the privacy or security practices of these apps,” the FTC said.