Facebook Tightens Privacy Controls


The social network also promises to include the reasons for collecting date of birth information as well as information on how its advertising programs work

Facebook on 27 Aug bowed to pressure from Canada and pledged to add more controls to protect user privacy.

This includes making it clear how users may delete their Facebook accounts, which zaps user profile data from the company’s servers, instead of just deactivating the accounts, which means the data is put on standby in case users want to access it again.

Facebook, which has grown to more than 250 million users and has come under fire for its privacy practices since it entered the limelight in 2007, promised to include the reasons for collecting date of birth information and account memorialization for deceased users, as well as information on how its advertising programs work.

The social network also vowed to protect non-Facebook members and to create a better notification process to help users become more aware of privacy settings so that they match users’ privacy preferences.

Finally, new technical changes will be designed to give people more control over the information they provide to third-party applications, such as games. For example, Facebook will introduce a new permissions model that will require applications to specify the information they wish to access and obtain express consent from the user before any data is shared. The user will also have to approve any access to their friends’ information, which would be subject to the friends’ privacy and application settings.

Facebook said in a statement this move alleviates the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s concerns that the sharing of personal information with third-party developers of Facebook applications raises privacy risks for Canada’s 12 million Facebook users.

Facebook said the planned changes will begin immediately, though updates to the Privacy Policy will require a notice and comment period for users. Moreover, Facebook said the changes to how users share information with third-party applications will take as much as a year to implement because Facebook will have to update its platform API and give developers time to reprogram and test their applications.

The changes come more than a month after Canada Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and her office ruled that Facebook breached Canadian privacy laws.

Facebook on 1 July streamlined its privacy options and made it easier for users to share their content with everyone. Bloggers argued that the privacy changes would improve Facebook’s advertising opportunities as it seeks to compete with Twitter, Google and Microsoft.

Stoddart remained dissatisfied by Facebook’s response at the end of the investigation, so Facebook went back to the bargaining table. The commissioner reviewed Facebook’s revised proposals and is satisfied with the commitments Facebook has made.

“These changes mean that the privacy of 200 million Facebook users in Canada and around the world will be far better protected,” Stoddart said in a statement on 27 Aug.