Social networking giant Facebook was found to have “deceived” users by allowing their personal information to become public.
Facebook was investigated by America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after it received a number of complaints against the website’s privacy setting system.
The social network was found to have broken eight promises it made to users, which allowed information designated private by users to become public.
Facebook broke its promise not to share users’ personal information with its advertisers.
It also said that the site’s third-party apps could only access information they needed in order to function, when in fact apps were capable of seeing anything Facebook liked.
The FTC chairman, Jon Leibowitz, condemned the site saying: "Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users. Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."
The FTC has drawn up a new agreement with Facebook (which can be read in full here), which aims to ensure that users’ private information remains just that.
Users of the website will now have to consent to changes to the site’s privacy settings, whereas before they did not.
Importantly, information from deleted accounts will be inaccessible after 30 days.
The website will also have to be audited in the next six months, and then every other year for the next two decades, in order to prove that it’s privacy policies are in line with the new agreement.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the website’s blog to respond to the charges. He wrote: “I think that a small number of high profile mistakes… have often overshadowed much of the good work we’ve done.” He also announced the appointment of two Chief Privacy Officers to oversee that side of the operation.
Zuckerberg concluded that although he believed Facebook does a good job of protecting its customers, “we can also always do better. I'm committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.”