3 Month Audit Scrutinizes Facebook Privacy Practices

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook has been ordered by Ireland to give users greater control over their privacy settings. The order comes after a privacy practices audit that took 3 months to complete.

The order will indirectly affect all Facebook accounts, except those held inside the US and Canada. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

Facebook Data Commissioner Issues Order

The order comes from Billy Hawkes, the data protection commissioner for the Republic of Ireland. His order has such wide effect because all of Facebook's data, outside of North America, is held by a subsidiary based in Ireland and is thus subject to both Ireland's domestic laws and European Union regulations.

Hawkes issued the order after a complaint from an Austrian man, Max Schrems. He protested Facebook's privacy policies after learning of a European law that requires Europe-based companies to share all the data they store about people with the people that data concerns.

Schrems claims he was stunned to find his file contained more than a thousand pages, including details he had deleted from his Facebook account. (Source: europe-v-facebook.org)

Facebook Escapes Financial Punishment

The investigation has not resulted in any charges that Facebook broke the data protection laws, which could have led to large fines. Hawkes said Facebook showed a "positive approach and commitment... to respecting the privacy rights of its users." (Source: dataprotection.ie)

However, Hawkes ordered Facebook to make changes to its policies, and scheduled a July 2012 review to check on its progress. He said the company must become more open about how it uses personal data for advertising; that users must be given more detail and control over the way their information is shared with third parties; and that users should have an easier way to examine the data Facebook stores.

American Users To Receive More Control Over Privacy

Facebook has already announced it will allow users to check their stored data, or download a copy

Previously, the only access to user data was via a mailed CD. The company also said it will clearly inform its customers about a tool that uses facial recognition to automatically tag them in photos, and allow them to opt out of this feature.

Hawkes' ruling comes a month after Facebook reached a similar agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission, forcing Facebook to alert its users when it changes their privacy settings, and to give them the option of immediately re-securing their profiles.

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