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Facebook's IPO guarantees a peek at its privacy



While you probably won't receive so much as a virtual sack of FarmVille pumpkin seeds from Facebook's long-awaited IPO — set to grant Facebook's shareholders millions and billions — there is one thing you'll get out of the deal: a chance to ogle the social network's private business, sort of like it's been doing to you for years.

Privacy advocates have long scrutinized how Facebook deals with privacy and security of its users, but now that Facebook is going public, "disclosure rules affecting publicly traded companies may force Facebook to reveal privacy-related investigations that it otherwise might have kept secret," Ars Technica notes. What's more, the filing informs us about Facebook's own concerns.


The required IPO filing references Facebook's recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, stemming from social network's massive privacy rollback in 2009. It also makes note of a current privacy audit by the Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, the result of 22 complaints made against the social network by Austrian privacy advocacy, Europe versus Facebook.

Given Facebook's growing omnipresence in our daily lives, you've probably heard about one or both of these investigations, thanks to privacy watchdogs. But as Ars Technica points out, Facebook, as a private company, was never obligated to tell you. Now that it's going public, Facebook must tell the world what's going on, and how it might affect shareholders. Take, for example, this segment from Facebook's filing:  

It is possible that a regulatory inquiry might result in changes to our policies or practices. Violation of existing or future regulatory orders or consent decrees could subject us to substantial monetary fines and other penalties that could negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations. In addition, it is possible that future orders issued by, or enforcement actions initiated by, regulatory authorities could cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business.

What else is Facebook worried about? The Sophos security blog points to No. 23 in the Facebook filing, under risks that may harm the business:

Computer malware, viruses and computer hacking and phishing attacks have become more prevalent in our industry, have occurred on our systems in the past, and may occur on our systems in the future ... As a result of spamming activities, our users may use Facebook less or stop using our products altogether.

"Facebook acknowledging the risks of privacy investigations, malware harming its systems and users and people abandoning the service if it becomes overwhelmed with spam shows they are cognizant of the risk and will now be even more motivated to reduce it," writes Sophos Senior Security Advisor  Chester Wisniewski.

Even though most of us won't earn a dime from Facebook's IPO, our privacy and security may be all the richer for it.

More on the annoying way we live now:

 Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about privacy and then asks her to join her on Twitter and/or Facebook. Also, Google+. Because that's how she rolls.