Facebook Fixing Privacy Gaps

Canada convinces social-networking giant to comply

By Jessica Greene
|  Thursday, Aug 27, 2009  |  Updated 1:00 PM PDT
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Facebook Fixing Privacy Gaps

As it is now, If you want to find to share a virtual hug, a shot, or a quiz with 12 of your Facebook friends, you'll be sharing a lot of their private information with third-party companies.

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Facebook agreed Thursday to give users more control over the information they share with third-party applications like games and quizzes in response to concerns raised by Canadian privacy officials.

As it is now, people who want to use such third-party software have to agree to share all their data with the application.

Accepting an invitation to take the "How well do you know the 80s?" or "What color are you?" or "How girly are you?"quiz, to name a few, prompts a page that says "access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work."

The translation -- you're sharing lot of information, including birthdays, policital affiliations and family photos about people you call your friends.

The ACLU even built a quiz that asks "What do quizzes really know about you?" But if you want to answer the questions about your knowledge of privacy settings, you'll have to share all that information with the snooty advertisers.

With the changes, the application developer will have to specify which categories of data the software needs, so users can decide accordingly.

Users will also have to specifically approve any access Facebook applications have to their friends' information. Such access still would be subject to the friend's privacy and application settings.

But, it could take up to a year for the changes to be fully implemented.

"Application developers have had virtually unrestricted access to Facebook users' personal information," Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart told reporters Thursday. "The changes Facebook plans to introduce will allow users to control the types of personal information that applications can access."

Even though the changes stemmed from Canadian privacy complaints, they will apply to Facebook's 250 million users worldwide.

As part of Thursday's agreement, Facebook will provide users with a clearer distinction between deactivating an account and deleting it, along with a better explanation of how its advertising programs work.

"People will be able to enjoy the benefits of social networking without giving up control of their personal information," Stoddart said.

With nearly 12 million Canadian Facebook users, Canada is among the world leaders in per capita usage of the site.

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