Under pressure from FTC, Facebook agrees a contract means what it says

Privacy case revolved on Facebook's practice of changing terms after compacts are sealed

The Federal Trade Commission is on the verge of an agreement that may rein in Facebook's tendency to overshare other peoples' private information.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story this morning, the 20-year agreement requires Facebook to make "no" the default answer to any Facebook request to access, publish or resell any additional information.

Facebook has tightened its privacy settings and policies several times during the past two years. Facebook added new controls that would give customers the choice whether to share photos, updates and other information to anyone at all, share it only with friends, or not share at all.

The complaint that prompted the two-year FTC investigation stemmed from Facebook's 2009 decision to let Google and other search engines spider the photos Facebook customers posted. That effectively allowed Facebook to publish customer's private photos for its own benefit.

The FTC's investigation took so long and Facebook was so set in its course that the offense kept getting worse.

First Facebook encouraged users to tag photos with the names of the people in them, names it made searchable to it became possible to trace one person's activities in photos from all his or her friends on FB.

Then came the facial recognition software that allowed Facebook to identify faces in photos with names the owners of the photos either didn't remember or chose not to post.

That was the worst part of the whole business. With automated face-recognition software Facebook took all the initiative and choice of whether to make photos or other information public entirely out of the hands of the people who posted the information as well as out of the hands of those named in it.

Facebook argued the feature benefits users by making it easier for friends to find one another.

Critics pointed out it also created a third-party activity tracking tool that could stalk one person through all his or her appearances in photos pasted on Facebook to reveal that person's most notable activities to the world at large, not simply a network of friends.

The agreement with the FTC would reportedly last 20 years, but so far neither Facebook nor the FTC has confirmed that it is happening, or what the terms might be.

Facebook specifically declined to comment for a Computerworld story; some things, it appears, shouldn't be shared with the public until the parties involved choose to reveal it.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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