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Facebook attempts to clear up privacy questions

Social network's privacy chief says policy changes aren't really new but include more details on how the site uses your data.

Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan held a question-and-answer session this morning streamed live on the company's Web site to talk about the social network's latest privacy policy changes.


The revisions to its policy, announced late last week, come as the social network prepares for what is expected to be one of the largest initial public offerings in history, on Friday.

The company updated the policy because the Irish Data Protection Commissioner asked the company to expand on its data practices by spring of this year, Egan said. "That's a big driver of our changes," in addition to the feedback from users and the introduction of new products and services, like Timeline, she said. "Our goal here is to be really transparent with you about our practices."

She responded to questions about specific items:

Mobile syncing Users can sync friends' contact information to their mobile devices so they can get the information there instead of having to log into Facebook each time to get it. "If you share contact information with someone, they can sync it to their device and at that point (Facebook doesn't have any control over it anymore)," she said. "That friend could use an app on that device which could access your contact information."

Account deletion Copies of messages you send to others on Facebook will be stored in both sender's and recipient's accounts. "You can delete your account on Facebook, permanently delete your account, (and) delete posts," she said. "If you delete your account there is going to be some things that might still be on Facebook... I can delete my copy of that message but that message is still going to exist in your account."

Audience Users can select what their audience is for specific information they post and they can change the audience for a post at any time, which means a post you make on someone else's item that is set to "Friends" can be changed in the future to public and any post there is then available for the world to see.

Advertising "We can use the data you give us for advertising," Egan said. "If you like a page, the fact of that like may be used to serve you an ad. (For instance,) if you like the Coke page we may... serve you an ad for Coke... if you write something in your status update, say 'I just went running,' for example, we may use that term to serve you an ad for a running shoe."

"We may serve ads off Facebook. That means if you could see an ad on Facebook we may use that same information to serve you an ad off Facebook. We're not doing that yet," she said. "We might serve an ad with a social context, an ad that has 'Andrew liked it' underneath it... We may use the information you provide on Facebook to serve you ads on Facebook and off Facebook."

"We may receive data about you from others so we can serve you ads. For example, if you use Zynga and Zynga wants to serve an ad to the highest scorers for Farmville, they would say 'here are user IDs,'" Egan said. "We may use it to match ... and they give us the ad and we will serve it. This is an example of where we may get data from an advertiser. The Irish (Data Privacy Protection Commissioner) felt we should have a broader statement around data retention," she said. "We will retain your data for as long as necessary to provide services... We will do it for the minimum necessary to basically provide that service."

Download tool "We have a Download Your Information tool that you can access through the Account Settings page, at the bottom. You can download the information we have," which has been expanded and includes photos, posts, messages, lists of friends and chat conversations. "I really think we are leading in the industry on this," she said.

Apps "Every time you use an app ... we provide a mechanism whereby you can find information around the data that app can access," Egan said. "When you go to use that app you are essentially engaging with a third party."

More information about the privacy policy changes can be found here and information about privacy in general on the site is at