Facebook is reportedly on the verge of settling a two-year-long investigation into its privacy practices by the Federal Trade Commission, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.
The agreement, still awaiting final approval from the FTC, reportedly requires Facebook to get “express affirmative consent” from users if it decides to make “material retroactive changes,” to the information they’ve posted on the website.
The proposed settlement would also involve terms similar to those that Google agreed to when it settled a similar privacy investigation from the FTC into its failed Google Buzz social network, according to the newspaper. Those terms, which were finalized and disclosed in October, required Google to be audited by an independent third party every two years over the next 20 years. Facebook has reportedly agreed to a similar, if not identical, requirement.
The Journal notes that the FTC investigation into Facebook was launched in December 2009, shortly after the company unveiled overhauled privacy settings for its 350 million users at the time, encouraging them to share more information publicly with each other and the rest of the Web, but by default. Some of the new public sharing settings were “opt-out” rather than “opt-in.”
That resulted in one of the many now-familiar Facebook update backlashes, with numerous bloggers piling on the social network for what they saw to be Orwellian tactics. Internet privacy advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center also joined in the fray.
But unlike other sitewide updates, the criticisms of Facebook’s new privacy settings continued to snowball, with Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Al Franken (D-MN) calling for the FTC to investigate the social network in April 2010.
It appears as though the FTC had them beat by a number of months. We’ve reached out to the FTC and Facebook for comment and will update when we receive a response.
Correction: This piece originally misidentified Sen. Mark Begich’s party as R instead of D and state as Alabama instead of Alaska. We’ve since corrected the affiliation and regret the error.