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Facebook spells out updated privacy policy

After continued scrutiny from privacy advocates, Facebook has explained the difference between deleting and deactivating accounts.

Facebook head of communications Elliot Schrage posted a company blog entry on Thursday inviting members to review proposed updates to the social network's privacy policy, and much of it deals with what happens to the content of accounts that members have opted to delete.

"Specifically, we've included sections that further explain the privacy setting you can choose to make your content viewable by everyone, the difference between deactivating and deleting your account," and the process of memorializing an account once we've received a report that the account holder is deceased," Schrage wrote. Earlier this week, Facebook detailed the process of "memorializing" an account, which leaves the profile intact to current friends but hides potentially sensitive information.

Now, in the proposed new policy, which members are invited to review and comment on until November 5, Facebook explains to users that they can "deactivate" their account, which hides it but keeps information stored for potential reactivation, or alternately choose to delete it for good.

"Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, it was otherwise distributed pursuant to your privacy settings, or it was copied or stored by other users," the new wording explains. It's referring to content like posts and comments on other members' profile 'walls.' "However, your name will no longer be associated with that information on Facebook."

It's been a long and twisted road for Facebook's privacy regulations. The new policy was put into place after a complaint from the Canadian Privacy Commission called into question what would happen to member profile data if a user deactivated an account.

That fiasco followed outrage over changes to Facebook's terms of service that implied Facebook claimed an "irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license" to member content even if the account had been deleted. One privacy advocacy group readied a federal complaint, and Facebook backed off and returned to its old terms of service.

In July, Facebook cleaned up its user privacy controls as it prepared to open up more of its profile content to public access and search engines.

But the Canadian Privacy Commission had also taken issue with how much Facebook profile information could potentially be shared with third-party developers or advertisers. Facebook made additional modifications to its user privacy controls in August in response to concerns about the developer platform, and in Thursday's post about the new privacy policy Schrage highlighted that the social network does not intend to share personal data with advertisers.

"The information we provide to advertisers is 'anonymized,' meaning that it can't be traced back to you as an individual in any way," Schrage's post explained.