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Facebook truce with FTC on privacy issue

Combined wire services

Just as reports say Facebook is considering raising about $10 billion in an initial public offering that would value the company at more than $100 billion, government regulators are sharing some alarming information about the world's largest social-networking site: They believe the site has often misled its more than 800 million users about the sanctity of their personal information.

The unflattering portrait of Facebook's privacy practices emerged Tuesday in a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that Facebook exposed details about users' lives without getting legally required consent. In some cases, the FTC charged, Facebook allowed potentially sensitive details to be passed along to advertisers and software developers prowling for customers.

To avoid further legal wrangling, Facebook agreed to submit to government audits of its privacy practices every other year for the next two decades. The company committed to getting explicit approval from its users -- a process known as "opting in" -- before changing their privacy controls.

The FTC's truce with Facebook, along with settlements this year with Google and Twitter, is helping to establish more ground rules for online privacy expectations.

Although Facebook didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing, co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was more contrite in a blog post Tuesday.

"I'm the first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes," Zuckerberg wrote. "In particular, I think that a small number of high-profile mistakes . . . have often overshadowed much of the good work we've done."

The company may file for the IPO before the end of the year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. At $10 billion, it would raise more money than any other technology IPO, but the resulting $100 billion valuation could change, said Lise Buyer, principal of the Class V Group, an IPO advisory firm. "It's far too early to accurately predict where the valuation will be on deal day."

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