Facebook To Allow Third-Party Access To User Info

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Facebook has announced another update to its privacy policy, allowing some third party applications access to users’ information without prior consent

Facebook is planning another round of changes to its privacy policy, ahead of the launch of several new products and services on the social networking site.

In blog post dated 26 March, Facebook’s deputy general counsel Michael Richter said that the announcement was in line with the site’s “open and transparent system of governance”. However, he gave very few details of the upcoming changes – merely hinting at possible partnerships with third-party websites to offer “a more personalised experience”.

“User control over privacy remains essential to our innovation process and we’ll continue to develop new tools to help you control the things you share on Facebook,” he said.

Tighter control and child protection

Closer inspection of the latest draft of Facebook’s privacy policy reveals that the sections on sharing have been updated, reducing the amount of information that is publicly available to just the user’s name and profile picture. Facebook has also reserved the right to add special protection for minors and place restrictions on the ability of adults to share and connect with them.

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The news follows the recent controversy over Facebook’s refusal to use the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) alert on its social network. MPs including Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman demanded “swift action” on the issue, but Facebook argued that it already had reporting buttons on its site. Finally a compromise was reached, and Facbook agreed to put the button in its “safety centre”, amongst its other help and safety information.

Third party access to information

With regard to third party applications, Facebook’s latest privacy policy outlines more specifically what information these third parties will be able to access. The policy states “When 
you 
connect 
with 
an application 
or 
website 
it 
will 
have
 access 
to 
General 
Information 
about 
you. The 
term 
General Information 
includes 
your 
and 
your 
friends’ 
names,
 profile 
pictures, 
gender, 
user
IDs, 
connections, and 
any 
content 
shared 
using 
the 
Everyone 
privacy 
setting.”

It goes on to say: “We
 may 
also 
make 
information 
about 
the 
location 
of 
your 
computer 
or 
access 
device 
and 
your 
age 
available 
to
 applications 
and 
websites in 
order 
to 
help 
them 
implement 
appropriate 
security 
measures 
and 
control 
the
 distribution 
of 
age‐appropriate 
content. 

If 
the 
application 
or 
website 
wants 
to 
access 
any 
other 
data, 
it 
will 
have
 to
 ask for 
your 
permission.
”

However, Facebook warns that a few pre‐approved
 third‐party
 websites
 and
 applications might be provided with “General
 Information” about users without the user’s prior consent. Furthermore, 
the
 pre‐approved
 website
 will
 also receive information 
about
 that user’s friends. “


In
 these
 cases 
we
 require 
these websites 
and 
applications 
to 
go 
through 
an
 approval 
process, 
and
 to 
enter 
into 
separate
 agreements designed 
to 
protect 
your 
privacy,” it said.

In his blog post, Richter remains vague about these new third-party partnerships: “In such instances, we would only introduce this feature with a small, select group of partners and we would also offer new controls,” he says.

Privacy expectations and open governance

Richter was also keen to emphasise Facebook’s “openness” about its policy changes. “We now post all proposed changes to our governing documents before they go into effect and solicit feedback on these proposals from the people who use Facebook,” he said. “In fact, we think we’re the only major online service that does this.”

Earlier this year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was widely criticised for suggesting that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, thanks to increasing uptake of social networking. “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” he said.

However, at “Privacy and Identity in a Digital Age” – a discussion run by the University of Southampton’s Institute for Web Science on 23 March – Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, slammed Facbook’s default privacy settings, which make information available to “Everyone”.

“Facebook uses default settings which are hostile to privacy. It is a con trick on users. They are being manipulated by social network sites – it is disgraceful and probably unlawful,” he said.

Anyone who wishes to express their view on the latest changes to Facebook’s privacy policy can post their thoughts on the Facebook Site Governance Page.

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