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Facebook, Privacy, and Your Information!

Facebook Private Policy page

Facebook Private Policy page

The issue of Facebook and its users’ privacy agreements has surfaced in the news once again. Not surprisingly the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has found that Facebook’s practices, such as sharing users’ information with third party developers and maintaining users’ information indefinitely, breach Canadian privacy laws. (This is why I don’t add on those silly Facebook applications.)

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s report found that Facebook continues to breach Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in four ways:

  1. Facebook doesn’t have enough safeguards to prevent 950,000 third-party developers around the world from getting unauthorized access to users’ personal information, nor does it ensure users have given “meaningful consent” to allow their personal information to be disclosed to the developers. Recommendation: Developers should only get the information needed to run the application. Users would have to specifically consent to the release of that information after being told why it is needed. Information about anyone other than the user would not be disclosed.
  2. Facebook keeps information from accounts deactivated by users indefinitely. Recommendation: Facebook should have a policy to delete the information after a reasonable length of time, and users should be informed of the policy.
  3. Facebook keeps the profiles of deceased users for “memorial purposes” but does not make this clear. Recommendation: Information about use for memorial purposes should be in Facebook’s privacy policy.
  4. Facebook allows users to provide personal information about non-users without their consent. For example, it allows them to tag photos and videos of non-users with their names, and provide Facebook with their email addresses to invite them to join the site. It keeps the addresses indefinitely. Recommendation: Facebook should only keep non-users’ email addresses for a reasonable, specific length of time and should make its users aware that they need to seek consent of non-users before posting information about them.
  5. Source: CBC News

I have been using Facebook since its early inception in 2005, when it was exclusive to only university students, faculties, and alumni across the US and Canada. I liked it that way more. Keeping your academic social networks separate from work, family, friends, and so on. Most importantly, you can’t join unless you are enrolled in an accredited post-secondary institution. I think Friendster and MySpace liked it that way too.

Once Facebook opened up to the public, it was met with a lot of resistance among its original users–myself included. Some users even swore to delete their Facebook account should the portal open up to include everyone. Well, Facebook went ahead with its plans and no one I knew closed their account as a result. I have to admit, it was unusual, at first, seeing friends, then co-workers, then family… OMG!

Eventually, I had to clean up my wall and photo albums that recorded all the great times and events of College/University life. Moreover, profiles use to be open for other students and campuses to view, now become enclosed within various networks of friends and organizations. It also made be-friending and profile viewing a creepy sport. Because of this, many users became “Facebook snobs”.

Let’s face it though, Facebook is still an awesome tool! But it will start losing luster if it continues to treat its users like chumps.

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July 17, 2009 • #, #, #, #, #, #, #, #

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