Facebook has probably realized what the adage on great power coming with great responsibility really means with what it has gone through over the past year. The social media giant has had to deal with widespread outrage from hundreds of millions of users and a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on its allegedly deceptive privacy practices.

But finally putting an end to the saga and perhaps effectively avoiding any onerous sanctions, Facebook reached a settlement with the FTC last week. The social network essentially agreed to the FTC’s terms of practicing transparency in implementing its privacy policies in order to protect the users’ personal information and interests.

Facebook and the alleged privacy breaches

It can be recalled that the Facebook issue on privacy started when changes to the privacy settings made by the company resulted in user data becoming more public, without the consent or knowledge of the concerned individual. People may freely share their personal information to social media sites but such action is made with the understanding that said information will only be accessible by those within the individual’s network. That’s not what happened with Facebook.

Advertisers and third-party sites reportedly got hold of relevant information of anyone who clicked on an ad on his or her FB page. Users also reported of how images and videos already deleted from one’s account continued to be accessible. But what earned the ire of more people was how the newly-implemented privacy settings created havoc even in people’s personal lives. Case in point: a man who shopped for an engagement ring online lost his chance to do a romantic proposal, reportedly thanks to Facebook publicizing this information. Can we say spoilsport?

Terms of the FTC deal

Hopefully, there will no longer be any of these surprises (or non-surprises for that matter) once the terms of the FTC deal are implemented. The settlement is still pending confirmation from a US Court but the general details have been released already. Among the requirements issued by the FTC was that Facebook submit itself to government-initiated privacy audits every other year for the next twenty years. In addition, the network also needs to get users’ permission before any changes in the privacy settings can be made.

Judging from these scant details revealed, Facebook will no longer have to undo the things done in the past. Instead, the focus of the settlement is on what the company needs to do moving forward.

What this means for Facebook users and advertisers

If we are to assume that there is some truth to the reports that Facebook was sharing users’ information to third-party advertisers, then this group benefited from the company’s actions even while the mass consumer base was up in arms regarding their loss of privacy. But with the Federal Trade Commission firmly putting its foot down on the so-called deceptive practices, FB needs to make a choice: users or advertisers.

Now this doesn’t have to sound so ominous for those using Facebook and social media for business. The fact is, a plethora of businesses have successfully launched advertising campaigns through the social media network without causing a ruckus in the FB community. This is because users can still opt to use any app, like any page, or join any group that interests them. And any one of these “applications” can ask for additional information – information that the user would be only be too willing to share because this is a choice he or she consciously made. On the other hand, if an advertiser makes use of the user data given to it by Facebook or any other social media platform, the information is not as relevant because it did not come directly from the user and hence, any overtures made by the third-party site may be met with rejection if not outright resentment.

The conclusion of this case ushers in a three-way win situation: for the FTC since it was able to lay down its terms, for Facebook since it gets to keep its users, and the users themselves, who can expect better privacy policies.

While stopping short of making a direct admission on the privacy allegations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement, did concede that they’ve “made a bunch of mistakes,” adding however, that “Facebook had already proactively addressed many of the concerns the FTC raised,” even before reaching an agreement with the federal agency.

Does the FTC settlement make you feel better that Facebook will deal with privacy issues? As a business, do you see this ruling changing the way you will conduct business on Facebook?

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