Web & communication software

Thanks, Canada: Facebook's 4 Big Privacy Fixes

Pick on Canada all you want, but this week the country did good by muscling Facebook into making privacy changes. Our northern neighbors took the lead on scrutinizing Facebook's privacy policy and required alterations in accordance with Canada's privacy laws. Here are the four major privacy fixes we'll be seeing from Facebook, plus a couple privacy concerns that remain:

Third-Party Data Mining

Canada's concern: When you install an app, such as "Superpoke" or "25 Random Things," you're always asked to give the app developer full access to your profile. It's never really clear what you're giving away by doing this, but your personal information can become fair game for marketers.

The fix: Apps will have to tell the user what information it wants and get express consent from the user beforehand. Information will be split into categories, which the user can check off before installing. Developers will also have to explain how that personal data will be used.

Account Deactivation

Canada's concern: Facebook doesn't make it clear what happens to your personal information after you pull the plug on an account. Deactivation doesn't necessarily mean deletion, and users couldn't be sure that their account data was being wiped clean.

The fix: Users will be given an option to either deactivate or delete their accounts. Upon deactivation, they'll be notified of the option to delete, and can elect to do so should they want all their data gone for good.

Privacy for Non-Users

Canada's concern: Even if you're anti-Facebook, Canada was worried that the site could still be keeping information on you. The country is somewhat vague on what, exactly, is the problem here, but it likely has to do with the storage of e-mail addresses.

The fix: Facebook says it doesn't keep a separate database of e-mail addresses for invite-to-Facebook feature, nor does it use e-mail addresses to track the feature's success. Beyond that, the site will update its terms of service to better explain what it's doing with non-user information.

Privacy for Dead People

Canada's concern: When you die, your Facebook account can potentially turn into an online memorial, with users writing on your wall and posting pictures. It sounds nice, but not everyone knows that this could happen.

The fix: Facebook will explain in its privacy policy what happens to an account after its owner passes away.

Concerns Remain

privacy
These steps won't close the book on Facebook's back-and-forth with privacy advocates. A federal complaint was filed in the United States earlier this year, dealing with how Facebook can use the content you put on the site.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed the complaint, also has a list of concerns on its Web site -- not complaints, per se, but things to watch out for. There's some overlap with Canada's gripes, but EPIC also raises questions over what happens when you're tagged in a photo, how you're listed in public searches. EPIC also says that Social Ads, which place user data into related advertisements, is potentially illegal.

Canada may have scored a victory, but the war's not over yet.

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