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Facebook Caves on Canadian Privacy Complaints

O Canada, the home and native land of extremely threatening privacy watchdogs. Hm? What’s that? Canadians aren’t scary, they’re actually friendly and accommodating? Well, yes, that’s been my experience, but that can’t be the case now. You see, Facebook usually kicks and screams like a two-year-old rather than change its policies. But when the world’s second largest country (by total area) points out that the world’s most popular social network is breaking their privacy laws, apparently Facebook has to listen. You know, eventually.

Although Facebook announced new, more granular yet simpler privacy controls in July, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddard, said the company wasn’t doing enough. They set forth a number of areas of the privacy policy that need improvements, including:

  • collecting users’ date of birth
  • the default privacy settings
  • advertising
  • third-party apps
  • future uses of personal info
  • collecting personal info from sites other than Facebook
  • deactivating/deleting accounts and the accounts of dead users
  • non-users’ personal info
  • mobile usage
  • account monitoring for suspicious activity and potential deception and misrepresentation

You know, everything.

So what is Facebook going to do? Cave. Since the sharing data with third-party apps was the biggest concern, the conference call highlighted those changes:

Developers will only have access to users’ friends’ data if the user grants permission. Friends will also have the ability to block apps. These “retrofits” will likely take a year to put in place, she says Facebook has said.

Canadian privacy authorities also asked Facebook to clarify that users can deactivate or delete their account. Facebook has agreed to provide a notice about the delete option during the deactivation process, and to add more information on the two options in its privacy policy, [Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth] Denham says.

These changes “put control in the hands of users,” where they belong, she adds. “We will certainly be following up with the implementation and their progress.”

Developers will be required to specify exactly what profile information their app needs to access. Dave Morin, senior platform manager for Facebook, told the WSJ that the apps would ask for permission to use the information as needed, not all up front.

Other changes include “account memorialization” for deceased users and more information in its ToS to protect non-users. Facebook hasn’t examined how much the changes will cost. The changes will roll out over the next year, with notifications coming “much sooner,” and a revised privacy policy in about a month.

Both the Canadian Privacy Commission and Facebook mentioned that other sites will be under scrutiny as well.

What do you think? Will these changes make your info on Facebook safer? Or are there deeper problems that this only begins to address?