Posted July 16, 2009 2:51 pm by with 13 comments

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Canadian FlagIt wouldn’t be a day in business any more if the main focus wasn’t government intervention, would it? It appears that all of the freedom that the Internet was supposed to offer is maybe a little too much for the folks to our north. The Canadian government has issued a report that tells Facebook that many areas concerning privacy for the social networking site don’t meet the standards of Canadian privacy law.

In order to comply with Canadian privacy law, Facebook must take greater responsibility for the personal information in its care, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said today in announcing the results of an investigation into the popular social networking site’s privacy policies and practices.

Excuse me while I take a deep breath. Ok. So the Canadian government is now telling a private American company just how they are to conduct business to their standards? I can see where the Canadian government may be concerned to one degree but there is a rub. Everyone who puts a profile on Facebook opts in and agrees to the privacy policy. It’s that little thing about people making their own choices. If they were concerned about privacy issues do you think anyone would be on Facebook? Some people treat it like they live in a glass house that shows everything they do all the time; by choice.

For all of you fans of more regulation of everything I hear where there may be concern that something may happen that could upset a citizen or two. At what point though do you stop telling the general public that they simply are not smart enough to make a decision on their own so the government will make it for them?

Yes this is a bit of a rant but I think this is ridiculous. Here is some of the press release on the Canadian government site:

An overarching concern was that, although Facebook provides information about its privacy practices, it is often confusing or incomplete. For example, the “account settings” page describes how to deactivate accounts, but not how to delete them, which actually removes personal data from Facebook’s servers.

The Privacy Commissioner’s report recommends more transparency, to ensure that the social networking site’s nearly 12 million Canadian users have the information they need to make meaningful decisions about how widely they share personal information.

The investigation also raised significant concerns around the sharing of users’ personal information with third-party developers creating Facebook applications such as games and quizzes. (There are more than 950,000 developers in some 180 countries.) Facebook lacks adequate safeguards to effectively restrict these outside developers from accessing profile information, the investigation found.

So the Canadian government has told Facebook to make changes. Facebook has made some but not all. The story says that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will have 30 days to review any changes that Facebook has made then Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart can take the issue to the Canadian federal court for enforcement.

I’ll say it again, people are opting in and with that comes inherent risk. At what point will the Canadian government feel comfortable with how well the data is protected and if it isn’t will they stop their citizens from using the service? Maybe I’m getting Canada confused with another country that starts with a C and their Internet policies: China.

  • Okay a couple of points:

    1) Comparing Canada to China for trying to get Facebook to close a few privacy holes is ridiculous.

    2) You say that because “people are opting in and with that comes inherent risk” then (paraphrasing) Facebook should be left alone because people know what they are doing and it is their tough luck whatever happens to that information. Part of what most governments do is protect it’s citizens – despite themselves. Are you saying that citizens should not have such protection?

    I am not a fan of anyone trying to regulate the Internet entirely, don’t get me wrong, but it IS good to see our government protecting citizens and keeping companies in line with our strong privacy laws. Without that kind of oversight the web would likely be rife with privacy issues, fraud, and I would hate to think of what else.

    3) “So the Canadian government is now telling a private American company just how they are to conduct business to their standards?” Well yes. When countries are as close and friendly as the US and Canada are, congeniality does occur; Facebook is working with them with few problems (see ). Every country has a right to protect its citizens’ privacy and I am glad to see that Canada has such a fine privacy rating; see the 2007 international privacy ranking .

    So, in short, I think it is great that Facebook has to bend over backwards to protect privacy and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone (other than Facebook who probably doesn’t want to do the work) would be anything but happy about it.

    Just my two bits.

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  • Comparing Canada to China? What planet are you on? I think in one sentence you may have just offended 30 million + people.

    I think rather than looking down your nose at the Canadian government, you should be pointing your finger at the US government and asking them what they are doing to protect your privacy!

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  • With the powerful surge of online media, governments tend to be nervous about the increase in foreign influences. With services like face book and twitter gaining such mass appeal they are becoming a universal appeal yet at the same time being corporates. It is scary if one gives it a thought from a country’s privacy angle.

    In a nutshell, it is more about the country rather than innocent fb profiles

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  • Frank… Have you even been to Canada? I spend a lot of time in the United States. Trust me friend, your country is far closer to being a police state than Canada is. Like living in a glass house, radical transparency necessitates one think before casting stones. A few more minutes of thought might have improved the tone and tenor of your article.

    The protection of consumer privacy should be a priority for government. I am glad the Canadian privacy commissioner has the foresight and intelligence to see these issues and deal with them in a rational and reasonable way. It’s not like Facebook hasn’t heard similar complaints from astute users in other parts of the world, including the United States.

    1. Users should have the right to own data they enter about themselves to a profile they consider their own.
    2. In Canada, we have a legal tradition known as Informed Consent. That means a contract must be explicitly clear and the consumer must fully understand its terms to be valid. While it is unreasonable to expect every person who accents to every EULA and TOC has been fully briefed on the explicit details contained within, it is NOT unreasonable to expect Facebook to better explain its privacy policies.
    3. Sharing private information with third party vendors or developers is a very touchy subject. In Canada, privacy laws dictate that if you share with a third party, you need to know that third party is in compliance with Canadian privacy laws. In other words, I can not share your personal information with another company unless I know they are going to remain within the law.

    The Privacy Commission was reacting to a consumer complaint. As a governmental organization, it is mandated to respond to and address concerns of Canadian consumers. In responding to this specific complaint, the Privacy Commission found Facebook was not complying with Canadian law. What exactly do you think the commissioner should do in such a situation? She did her job and from I am sitting in downtown Toronto, she did it properly.

    In an age punctuated with identity theft and electronic fraud, I echo Scott’s comment above,
    “I think rather than looking down your nose at the Canadian government, you should be pointing your finger at the US government and asking them what they are doing to protect your privacy!”

  • nicw

    In a nutshell, this report has everything to do with Canada’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. FIPPA is in place to protect private information for Canadian citizens.

    Users of Facebook indeed choose to opt-in which includes their privacy policy. Should FB let Canadian users know their private data is saved on US servers and therefore not necessarily protected by FIPPA. Or, because FB is a US company, does the responsibility fall on the user? How many Canadian FB users have read the privacy policy enough to show they care in the first place?

    I don’t think this has to do with any comparison to police states or Canada to China. I believe FB should give Canadian users a choice by letting them know how and where their data is available and let those users decide to close/delete their account. Or maybe the Canadian government should make this known to their citizens first, before acting on a small percentage of consumer complaints.

    Overall, this should not be the Canadian governments call to regulate a US company especially when it is an opt-in site.

  • Patrick

    ”’ Everyone who puts a profile on Facebook opts in and agrees to the privacy policy. ”’

    It is not because you signed a policy that it is binding, a policy/contract must be conform to the applicable regulation. It simply can’t be judged as legitime just because a private company has made it its contractual term. There is jurisprudence on such topic as Privacy and what this ‘Facebook sharing with Third party’ can eventually become: Identity Theft.

    The commissionner’s demand for conformity is completely making sense and shows that a good job has been done upstream to any future problematic. Afterall, the day where Identity Theft or other Privacy conflict would become a fact, the burden to resolve the situation and help the victims would be on the public/government’s hand, and to absorb the cost generated on the economy and on the civil service allocated to that.

  • Well, I am certainly glad that people are reading to the end of my posts! Of course, my comparison to China was a bit harsh but I am happy to see some passionate defendants of Canada and its policies. So you know I am simply a person that feels that too much government intervention in business is a very bad thing. I live in a country where the subject is pretty hot as well.

    Thanks to everyone for coming by and stay involved. It takes two to tango.

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  • not only canada but they don’t live up to any one’s privacy satisfactions 🙂

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  • And the Canadian government knows it can’t ban people from Facebook, but it can stop Facebook from conducting business in Canada.

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