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Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Takes on Facebook

July 31, 2009

Facebook has agreed to let advertisers use your pictures in order to tailor ads to lure you and your friends. Click on SETTINGS up where you see the log out link. Select PRIVACY SETTINGS. Select NEWS FEEDS AND WALL. Select the tab that reads FACE BOOK ADS. There is a drop down box, select NO ONE. Save your changes. – From a Facebook user’s “What’s on your mind” entry

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jenifer Stoddart wants Facebook improve its privacy practices . Her investigation found that though “privacy issues are top of mind for Facebook,” continuing problems include unclear and incomplete privacy policy, retained data from deactivated accounts, and the letting of user information to third-party developers. The company has agreed to comply with many of Stoddart’s recommendations, but has made no guarantees regarding data deletion and third party information sharing.
Facebook’s third party agreement compels users to assent that uploaded images and content become the intellectual property of the company, unless specific settings are employed. Facebook users who don’t take care to understand the settings breach their own privacy, and that of their friends’. According to the end user agreement, the uploader, not Facebook is culpable.

In Facebook’s defense, the company provides a service in exchange for advertising revenue; their policies protect the core of their business model. Yet most end-users disregard the reading and interpreting of agreements, and so they are collaborators in their own exploitation. Facebook users should understand that they are submitting information to an incredibly effective marketing company.

As for deleting data from inactive accounts, some have made a compelling argument that it is difficult to remove, and that many users are in fact, demanding more avenues of information sharing. A social network is like a living biome; strings of information intertwine like growing roots through personal profiles. Once the data is out, exhaustive removal would then become akin to putting toothpaste back in the tube, particularly with the increasing integration of social networking platforms.

This analogy is only partly correct. Images that are linked from one user to the next are in a single place on Facebook servers and could easily be found. However, if users were to download and re-upload images, locating that content would become more difficult.

It is not clear what Canada’s recourse will be if Facebook does not meet compliance after the one month grace period, but other countries are watching closely. Regardless of whether Facebook makes their policy clearer, concerned users should exert their power, and use social network’s the connectivity potential these facts abundantly clear to their friends.

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