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'Serious privacy gaps' in Facebook violate Canadian law


Latest update : 2009-07-17

For Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, the popular social networking site breaks Canadian law by holding on to members' personal information indefinitely, even after they leave the site.

AFP - Canadian officials on Thursday said Facebook was breaking national privacy law by holding on to personal information from closed accounts at the social-networking service.

A Canada privacy commission report expressed "an overarching concern" that privacy information Facebook provides its more than 250 million users is "often confusing or incomplete."

Facebook said it is working with the commission to resolve its concerns in ways that safeguard privacy without disrupting user-experiences at the world's most popular online social-networking community.

"Overall, we are looking for practical solutions that operate at scale and respect the fact that people come to share and not to hide," Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly told AFP.

"We continue our dialogue and have every confidence that we will come to acceptable conclusions. I think the concerns are fully resolvable."

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said there are several areas in which Palo Alto, California-based Facebook needs to bring its practices in line with privacy law in Canada.

The conclusion is based on an investigation prompted by a complaint from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

"It's clear that privacy issues are top of mind for Facebook, and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates," Stoddart said in a release.

Facebook's policy of holding onto personal information from deactivated accounts is a violation of Canadian law established by a Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, according to the report.

The law requires organizations to retain personal information only for as long as is necessary to meet appropriate purposes, the commissioner said.

The report calls on Facebook to make privacy policies and options more transparent to ensure that the nearly 12 million Canadians using the service can properly manage personal information.

Facebook does not adequately restrict access that outside software developers have to personal information people put on profile pages, according to the commissioner.

A key to Facebook's popularity has been that third-party developers are free to make fun, functional, or hip mini-programs that people can install on profile pages.

The report estimated that 950,000 developers in 180 countries craft Facebook applications, with games and quiz programs among favorites.

Facebook has agreed to adopt many recommendations in the report.

"We urge Facebook to implement all of our recommendations to further enhance their site, ensure they are in compliance with privacy law, and ultimately show themselves as models of privacy," said Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

The privacy commissioner's office gave Facebook 30 days to comply with all its recommendations and noted that it can go to federal court for enforcement.

Facebook will soon introduce additional privacy features that it believes will address the commission's concerns, according to Kelly.

"Facebook has made privacy a core part of its business, and is the industry leader in developing and deploying privacy tools and advocating their use," Kelly said.

"We believe that the very reason Facebook is popular in Canada is because the site offers people a way to share information, enables them to choose what information they share with whom, and is very easy to use."

Date created : 2009-07-17