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Canadian Law 'Breached' By Facebook's Privacy Stance

 10:41 am on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Canadian Law 'Breached' By Facebook's Privacy Stance [news.bbc.co.uk]
Facebook is breaching Canadian law by holding on to users' personal information indefinitely, a report has concluded.

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart laid out the findings of the report at a news conference in Ottawa.

She accepted that Facebook regarded privacy issues as a top concern "and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates".

Facebook's policy of holding on to subscribers' personal information, even after their accounts had been deactivated, was one area that breached Canada's privacy laws, she said.



 11:59 am on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

whats wrong with all the Large companies, why do they all spit on the Privacy of there users, they are the once that keep a site alive.


 12:49 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Knowing your customers gives a competitive edge, which is one reason why every detail of everything you've done while interacting with most sites is recorded and archived.

You don't ever enter your REAL birthday or middle initial etc do you?

Just like there's no way for you to know if your information is safe with websites there is no way for websites to know if the birthday or middle initial you provide is real.

You'll be happy you gave a fake birthday or other random bit of information when you get an email or phone call that seems absolutely legitimate, except that they have some info wrong and you KNOW where that came from.

Pick a different birthday/middle initial/etc for every site and you'll know quickly which aren't honest. I wouldn't hold your breath with Facebook deleting your old account information but if that info was "slightly" wrong to begin with it's poison to any would be scammer.


 1:21 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

"Facebook was also criticised for failing to adequately restrict access of users' personal details to some of the 950,000 developers in 180 countries who provide applications, such as games, for the site."

Yup. That's why consumers need to be made aware of what's going on. At the moment, some companies are getting away with writing their privacy policies to a standard that requires the equivalent language and reading skills of a 2nd year university student. If that doesn't stink of hidden motives I don't know what does....

JS_Harris, There's a name for what you are doing it's called "communication privacy management". Happy reading.

Enjoy :)


 1:29 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Here are the summary findings from the report:


 3:15 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

This report is what state and public services should be working towards, protecting its citizens. I applaud this action and its response, and I hope that Facebook addresses these issues.


 3:21 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Facebook was also criticised for failing to adequately restrict access of users' personal details to some of the 950,000 developers in 180 countries who provide applications, such as games, for the site.

As a developer of several FB apps, I can attest that they do divulge a lot of personal info to anyone with a developer token. And if you install an app, you're giving away even more. When you install my app, I can get your full name, birthday, relationship status, work history, friend list... It seems like the only thing they won't give away is your email address.

Some of this information is crucial for building social applications. Much of it is not.

FYI, here is a list of all the information a developer can find out about you:


 3:46 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Thanks for that link httpwebwitch, now I can see what all the fuss is about. This is just plain wrong.

Its really nice when a government actually "has your back". Because Facebook really needs to delete your information when you choose to delete your Facebook account.


 3:56 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Thanks httpwebwitch, that's a great page link that I've archived in PDF. I've always been very wary of these applications, and part of that was that it seemed virtually impossible to identify what information you were sharing by way of their installation. I don't buy the free and fun when users are paying a subscription. That's link has pretty much confirmed things for me.


 4:24 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ok, so I'm a little rusty on my UK law, but isn't holding on to details forever something the Data Protection Act talks about?


 4:50 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Facebook's response to new privacy concerns: trust us [cbc.ca]
"Make sure you never upload anything you don't feel comfortable giving away forever, because it's Facebook's now," consumer advocacy website the Consumerist said in a post on Sunday.

But Future of Privacy Forum director Jules Polonetsky told Agence France Presse that the changes reflect "common language in every website because their cut-throat lawyer says you need to cover yourself."

"Folks should just calm down."


 6:58 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

But Future of Privacy Forum director Jules Polonetsky told Agence France Presse that the changes reflect "common language in every website because their cut-throat lawyer says you need to cover yourself."

Lawyers being involved in something bad for users doesn't surprise me one bit.

"Folks should just calm down."

For them to be this nonchalant shows their lack of concern for users privacy. I am tired of companies stockpiling data on users but I am more tired of users being ignorant and lazy. I think it is time to start blaming the people who are at fault for letting this happen, the users.


 1:21 pm on Jul 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

>> I think it is time to start blaming the people

I see your point, bkeep. But then, you're going to blame my Mom (a user) for being ignorant and lazy regarding data privacy? She's using this tool to have social interaction with loved ones in remote places. Data privacy isn't even in her vocabulary. Regular folk should not be vilified for trusting the services they use.

Just as toothpaste manufacturers should be legally accountable to make toothpaste that doesn't cause cancer, Website manufacturers (like us) should be accountable to the law to make websites that don't compromise people's identity, security, safety, etc.


 2:09 pm on Jul 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

Question... (to no one here in particular)

Why are offline businesses allowed to keep transaction information indefinitely, and share it with their business partners without a huge outcry? I'm not saying its right or wrong for either online or offline, just pointing out the double standard. If you cancel your card with a company, they keep your history and still sell it to aggregators and share it with partners. Seems that people get very indignant with the very same things they do daily in their offline lives. You walk into a store and your actions are monitored on camera. Your credit card transaction history at the store is kept, and often shared with data aggregators, you drive under traffic cameras yet still vote the bums in who put them there, folks use discount cards all over the place, you hand your credit card number over to some stranger in an eatery without thinking twice, UPS knows where you get packages from, etc.

I can't help but think when I read stories like this that the real reason is for some bureaucrat to get some attention. If they really cared about the public, they'd really address the issues on a widespread basis, including those which hit campaign contributors rather that going after a high profile company here and there.


 5:43 am on Jul 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

@httpwebwitch No, not your mom, I would never blame anyone's mother.

@motorhaven A very good point, my opinoin on it is maybe it comes down to a lack of empowerment. When it comes to offline data, how many people have their name, address and phone number printed in phone books every year? Maybe consumers actually think that voicing their opinion online my deter these kinds of actions, I really don't know but it is worth some hard thought.

For me I think it also depends on what personal is to you as a consumer or user. The real question raised was the fact data was kept indefinitely and this is something that should be addressed in all offline and online scenarios.

Another thing to look at from the company side of it keeping data forever is not good either. If as a company you are building mailing lists either email or snail mail, after a certain point your data gets stale.

I still do think it comes down to users, myself included making ourselves aware of the privacy polices and data retention policies of the companies we deal with. I say we should let them know our feelings and voice our opinions that way they can see we don't like it.



 8:05 am on Jul 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

@motorhaven - That's a good point.

First what you are seeing in Coputer Mediated Communication is its ability to place elements of human interaction in a new sphere that allows the phenomenon to be studied in a way not previously possible.

So, perhaps what we will see happen is that concerns for online privacy will help raise people's awareness and focus attention at offline privacy (such as you note). Certainly, I think that we could all agree that Internet has made us all much more aware of privacy issues (just look at all our aliases for a start!).

I also think that there is a difference in the level of information that can be gotten out of the social media sphere, when compared to a standard offline purchase (sure there are some lifetime value nuggets such as DOB, address and National Insurance number in the offline purchase).

However, it's all the tones and shades of information, insights and character traits that can be gleaned from an interaction online, that can then (and is) be recorded in its entirety and then analyzed. Take something banal like you saying to a friend that you liked an album by X Group in a pub. That conversation is lost in the chatter of others around you. However do that in a Social Media context and that information will be captured. As a platform owner I could then go to that music group and say "hey I've got a person here that likes your music, want to sell to them". Is that a bad thing? Probably not. But does the average user appreciate that this level of scrutiny could be applied to every single conversation they had, probaby not.

It's not that there is anything overly wrong with any of this, as long as profile data mining is matched with a consumer awareness that this is taking place, and a mechanism to see that business does not share that data with the highest bidder.

However, when you read some of the research reports on privacy and hear researchers confess that as experts in privacy, their innability to understand fully the terms of a privacy policy is of great concern, particularly as people who above all others should be able to make sense of it, I too share their concern.

It is for the consumer to make themselves aware of the privacy policy and how their data will be treated, but it is also for the company to write that privacy policy in a way that is understandable for the user, and to use a lexicon of words that has consistency. At the moment this is not happening, so comparing privacy policies like for like, is a very hard task for the average joe.



 2:06 pm on Jul 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have blocked every 3rd party facebook app I ever received: their app model is huge privacy hole. The scary stuff is that young people grow up with this without understanding it and then get used and immune to this privacy leak. I guess we're moving towards a society where one day you'll be both "friends" with your wife and mistress, and they'll be exchanging pictures on the web and be best friends. Scary or maybe just plain weird.

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