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Canadian official takes issue with Facebook privacy

A new report from Canada's privacy commissioner expresses concern about third parties accessing member data as well as how long Facebook holds onto the content from deactivated profiles.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

An investigation by Canada's Privacy Commissioner is concerned that Facebook is only paying lip service to members' privacy, and has called on it to do more.

"It's clear that privacy issues are top of mind for Facebook, and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates," commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a release Thursday, which explained that the investigation was spurred by a complaint from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

About 12 million of Facebook's 250 million active users are Canadian.

More specifically, Stoddart expressed concern that while it's easy for members to deactivate their accounts, it's less clear on how to actually delete them. Facebook therefore can retain member data from deactivated accounts for an indefinite period of time, which is in violation of a Canadian privacy law; Stoddart's office's investigation recommended that Facebook designate a time period after which that data is permanently deleted.

The report also suggests that Facebook tighten privacy regulations on its developer platform to ensure that third-party developers can't access too much personal information from the users who have installed their applications.

Here's something interesting from the release: "As a result of the investigation, Facebook has announced a new privacy tool for its site, which is aimed at giving users more control over who gets to see each item on their Facebook page."

Facebook launched those new tools in a conference call with reporters early this month. But the social network did not say at the time that there had been any impetus from lawmakers behind it.

"Facebook is pleased that the Canadian Federal Privacy Commissioner has dismissed most of the inaccurate claims brought by CIPPIC, and that we were able to collaboratively resolve other issues raised in the complaint," a statement from Facebook read. "The Commissioner also recognized, as we do, that privacy and user control on the social web is a new area, which requires websites, users and data protection authorities to work together. Without question, Facebook and the Canadian Privacy Commissioner's Office share the common goal of making the Internet more privacy friendly for Canadians and users across the world."

"As part of our continued leadership in developing privacy tools that advance user control over their information, Facebook will soon be introducing a number of new additional privacy features to its service that we believe will keep the site at the forefront of user privacy and address any remaining concerns the Commission may have," the statement continued. "In the meantime, we will also continue our efforts to work with the Canadian Federal Privacy Commissioner to address the outstanding areas highlighted in the report and will continue our efforts to raise awareness of the privacy controls on Facebook."

This post was updated at 11:04 a.m. PDT with comment from Facebook.