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What the FTC Facebook settlement means for consumers

The next time users visit Facebook, things might not look different, but big changes are brewing behind the scenes. The FTC’s record-breaking $5 billion settlement requires Facebook to conduct a massive overhaul of its consumer privacy practices. The settlement also makes major changes to Facebook’s operations and CEO Mark Zuckerberg no longer has sole control over privacy.

First, some background. Facebook is a social networking site, but it makes money by serving up targeted ads based on users’ personal information. Many consumers are hesitant about sharing certain data, so Facebook calms that concern by promising that people can control the privacy of their information through the platform’s privacy settings.

The FTC sued Facebook in 2012 for making misleading promises about the extent to which consumers could keep their personal information private. For example, Facebook told users they could select settings to make information available just to “friends.” But despite that promise, Facebook allowed apps used by those friends to access consumers’ information, a decision that put money in Facebook’s pocket. The 2012 FTC order put penalties in place if Facebook made misleading statements in the future about consumers’ control over the privacy of their personal information.

According to the FTC, that’s just what happened. Facebook violated the order by again giving companies access to information that consumers said they didn’t want to share. The FTC also alleges Facebook made other misleading statements about how it used facial recognition, consumers’ cell phone numbers, and other personal data.

Here are three things to know about the FTC’s history-making settlement with Facebook.

  1. Facebook will pay the largest civil penalty by anyone anywhere ever in a privacy case.
  2. The settlement requires fundamental changes at Facebook and removes CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the company’s consumer privacy decision maker.
  3. As Facebook puts its new privacy program in place, consumers should take a fresh look at their settings.

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