The privacy gods giveth, and the privacy gods taketh away.
On the giveth side, Facebook is about to reach an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission about what it will and won't do with user data, reports the Wall Street Journal:
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.
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In other words, Facebook would no longer be able to engage in the same privacy bait-and-switch it pulled in December 2009, when it unilaterally declared certain basic user info (names, photos, location, friends lists) would be public, regardless of what people said in their privacy settings. Next time out, Facebook would required to obtain the permission of its 800 million friends before changing the rules about what data it shared and with whom.
(Personal aside to Cringester D. S.: Did I use "whom" correctly that time?)
Facebook may also agree to have its privacy practices monitored for the next 20 years. This may be similar to monitoring arrangements agreed to by Twitter and Google.
Is this a new day for privacy on the InterWebs? Maybe. Best-case scenario is that, if true, this agreement will establish a precedent for how other Web companies must act; if they collect data under a certain set of rules, they cannot apply new rules to that same data later. That's a good thing.
On the other hand, privacy fundamentalists like the Center for Digital Democracy's Jeff Chester say it's just more of the same old same old:
We have to read the fine print, but the fact is that business realities are going to shape Facebook's data collection practices -- not regulation.... Does the consent decree provide new rights for users on Facebook to control their data, or is a digital bump on the road that will do nothing to deter the social network's voracious appetite for consumer information?