WASHINGTON: Facebook and the US government are headed towards an agreement on how the social network will make changes to user privacy settings in future.

The Wall Street Journal reported that under the terms of the settlement agreed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTO), Facebook users will be warned about "material retroactive changes" to the availability of their data before these changes are made. FTO officials will also audit Facebook's privacy settings for a period of 20 years.

The settlement stems from complaints from consumers and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union following Facebook's introduction of changes to its privacy settings in 2009.

Among the most controversial of these was the fact that users' gender and the area they live in would be publicly-viewable by default, where previously users could decide for themselves whether or not to keep these details private.

Campaigners at the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the initial FTC complaint later the same year. Facebook has since made the settings easier for users to track.

Speaking to the New York Times, Jeff Chester, the executive director of pressure group the Center for Digital Democracy, said that the settlement was necessary ahead of any planned public listing of the company.

He added: "The real test of the FTC's Facebook deal will be whether a user actually has control over their own information."

Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the EPIC, told Bloomberg that the settlement would be "long overdue".

The FTC has yet to announce officially its agreement with Facebook.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/New York Times/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff