Any time I read Facebook and privacy in the same line I get a little chill that runs up my spine. Facebook and privacy don’t get along mainly because Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, truly believes that everyone should share everything with everyone at all times. That philosophy is couched in the “we’re gonna change the world” talk but the truth behind that is that the more you share the more Facebook stands to make.
Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is trying to get its privacy ducks in a row and many feel that this is being pursued as a April 2012 deadline approaches relating to the mythical Facebook IPO becoming reality. At that point Facebook would be required to file public financial results so the mystery would be gone. Don’t want to IPO after that one gets out do ya? The Journal states
Facebook Inc. is close to a settlement with the U.S. government over charges that it misled users about its use of their personal information, the latest sign of widening public concern over privacy in the digital age.
According to people familiar with the talks, the settlement would require Facebook to obtain users’ consent before making “material retroactive changes” to its privacy policies. That means that Facebook must get consent to share data in a way that is different from how the user originally agreed the data could be used.
One of the terms and conditions of this settlement should it be finalized is that Facebook would be subject to independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. Ouch. That’s like having a 20 year privacy ankle bracelet on the service. I bet the higher ups are none too happy about that one.
The Journal continues
A person familiar with the matter said the Facebook settlement does not require users to expressly agree to all changes made on the site.
This person said the agreement prohibits Facebook from making information that’s already on the site available to a wider audience than previously intended, without the user’s express consent. In general, the settlement won’t dictate how Facebook obtains user consent for new features.
The Facebook settlement is part of a broader government push to hold companies more accountable for the personal data they collect, store and trade.
This push is likely to only get stronger as the privacy issue could end up being a political chess piece in 2012. Twitter has already agreed to audits every other year for 10 years following investigation into hacked accounts.
What was most interesting about all of this was a quote from Mark Zuckerberg that came off a bit curious at best and weird at worst. He said
In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Mr. Zuckerberg said the company is working to make it easier for people to control their privacy on Facebook.
“It’s getting more and more important to be increasingly clear and give people those controls,” he said of the site’s privacy settings. “I don’t think we’re at the end. I think we’re going to need to keep on making it easier and easier, but that’s our mission.”
If this wasn’t a PR sound bite then nothing is. There is literally little or no evidence of this being part of Facebook’s mission unless there has been an about face that was not made public. The company’s history of running rough shod over their users’ privacy is well documented and there has always been the appearance of trying to get people to make as much information as public as possible even if they weren’t totally aware of it happening.
It sure seems like the IPO is more imminent than ever because the politically correct privacy rhetoric is ratcheting up. Better make nice before the quiet period starts. Just ask Groupon how much fun that 90 days can be.