• August 27, 2009

    Facebook To Make Sweeping Changes to Privacy Policies

    Facebook has committed to giving users more control over personal information on their social networking pages and as shared with third party developers. In reaction to and in collaboration with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Facebook will make sweeping changes to how personal data is collected, stored and shared with over one million application makers around the world. The changes to Facebook's privacy policies will be global. When fully implemented the next year, these changes will represent the strongest statement on personal privacy standards made by any social network or other Internet entity. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner began an investigation into privacy concerns after a complaint by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, a computer-user advocacy group at the University of Ottawa. Facebook is extremely popular in Canada with nearly 12 million (1 out of 3) Canadians maintaining a personal profile. The Commission found Facebook was not in compliance with Canadian Privacy Laws as outlined in Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. A report was released on July 16 giving Facebook 30-days to respond to the Commission's recommendations with an action plan for compliance. Instead of resisting, which would have been its legal right as a corporation registered in another country, Facebook decided to offer users more information about their privacy and to tighten personal controls over how user information is shared. Today Facebook and the Office of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner issued statements suggesting collaboration between the Commission and Facebook on a set of privacy standards for social networks. During its year long investigation of Facebook, the Privacy Commission was concerned with 4 key information policy areas covering third-party developers, deactivation of accounts, personal information of non-users, and accounts of deceased users. In the case of third party application developers, permission for every category of personal information the application wants to access will need to be expressly given by users. Facebook users will be able to control which categories applications are able to access. Third party application developers will also have to offer a link to a statement outlining how personal information will be used by the developer.

    "These changes mean that the privacy of 200 million Facebook users in Canada and around the world will be far better protected. This is extremely important. People will be able to enjoy the benefits of social networking without giving up control of their personal information. We're very pleased Facebook has been responsive to our recommendations." Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart
    The changes to Facebooks policies will take a year or more to fully implement. They will also require a lot of resources from Facebook and independent application developers. A new Facebook API will need to be developed and developers will need to recreate their applications. The effort will bear benefits for Facebook users and, ultimately, for Facebook and its advertisers. Facebook's privacy initiative is likely to become a standard for other social networking sites in the future as users demand protection of what they perceive to be private data. Facebook appears to recognize this. In a press release issued by Facebook today, Director of Platform Product Marketing, Ethan Beard said,
    "We strongly believe that the changes to the permission model for third-party applications will give users more confidence in Platform and will, thus, help ensure the long-term health and vitality of the ecosystem that has grown around Platform. We will be communicating regularly with developers about the changes and we’re going to take our time to make sure the outcome is something users understand and that developers have ample time and notice to adapt."
    The Canadian Privacy Commissioner has reviewed and accepted Facebook's plan. Both entities appeared to have actually enjoyed the experience of working together. Elliot Schrage, Vice-President of Global Communications and Public Policy at Facebook was quoted in the same press statement saying,
    Our productive and constructive dialogue with the Commissioner’s office has given us an opportunity to improve our policies and practices in a way that will provide even greater transparency and control for Facebook users. We believe that these changes are not only great for our users and address all of the Commissioners' outstanding concerns, but they also set a new standard for the industry."