Canada closes Facebook privacy investigation... and opens another one

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Canada's privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says she's completed her review of Facebook's privacy practices - but that the company's introduced so many new features since she began that she's going to have to start all over again.

Stoddart says that the issues raised in the original complaint have been resolved to her satisfaction.

"Facebook has put in place measures to limit the sharing of personal information with third-party application developers and is now providing users with clear information about its privacy practices," she concludes.

One of Stoddart's major concerns was that third-party developers of games and other applications on the site had 'virtually unrestricted' access to users’ personal information. 

"Facebook has since rolled out a permissions model that is a vast improvement," she says. "Applications must now inform users of the categories of data they require to run and seek consent to access and use this data.  Technical controls ensure that applications can only access user information that they specifically request."

She added: "We’re also pleased that Facebook has developed simplified privacy settings and has implemented a tool that allows users to apply a privacy setting to each photo or comment they post."

However, the investigation found that there were still areas in which improvements need to be made. Stoddart has asked Facebook to improve its oversight of application developers and to educate them a bit better about their privacy responsibilities. 

Even users come in for a little bit of finger-wagging: "Facebook users also have a responsibility here," says Stoddart.  The report says that users need to inform themselves about how their personal information is going to be used and shared, and that users should take advantage of the company's recently-introduced privacy changes.

So far, so good. But a privacy commissioner's work is never done, it seems - and now the commission is set to start all over again.

"We have received several further complaints about issues that were not part of our first investigation and we are now examining those," says Stoddart, who may be feeling just a tad weary by now. The new complaints concern Facebook’s invitation feature, and the Facebook 'Like' buttons on other websites.