Facebook Users, You can Thank the Canadians for Improved Privacy and Transparency

For more than a year, Canada’s privacy commission, under the leadership of Jennifer Stoddard investigated Facebook’s privacy policies and tools. They found that Facebook gave “confusing or incomplete” privacy information to subscribers and gave developers “virtually unrestricted access to Facebook users’ personal information.”

Under pressure to change, Facebook today announced plans to improve their service. “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,” said Elliot Schrage, Vice-President of Global Communications and Public Policy at Facebook. “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.”

Here are the specific changes Facebook will be making according to their Press Statement:

  • Updating the Privacy Policy to better describe a number of practices, including the reasons for the collection of date of birth, account memorialization for deceased users, the distinction between account deactivation and deletion, and how its advertising programs work.
  • Encouraging users to review their privacy settings to make sure the defaults and selections reflect the user’s preferences.
  • Increasing the understanding and control a user has over the information accessed by third-party applications. Specifically, Facebook will introduce a new permissions model that will require applications to specify the categories of information they wish to access and obtain express consent from the user before any data is shared. In addition, the user will also have to specifically approve any access to their friends’ information, which would still be subject to the friend’s privacy and application settings.

Facebook announced, “work on the planned changes will begin immediately. However, some changes will take some time before they are visible. For example, updates to the Privacy Policy will require a notice and comment period for users. In addition, the changes to how users share information with third-party applications will require significant time and resources, both for the updating and testing of the new Facebook API, and for third-party application developers to reprogram and test their applications. Facebook anticipates this entire process will take approximately 12 months.

Thank goodness. These changes are a long time in coming, and every Facebook user will benefit from the work now being undertaken. This is a significant step towards recognizing users’ right to privacy, choice, and transparency. 

Until the changes are in place (up to a year from now), I recommend that you do not use 3rd party applications, and that you carefully review the safety/privacy settings you currently have in place.

Linda

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