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November 29, 2012

Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner questions Facebook’s policy changes

Several privacy watchdogs, including the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, question the social network’s planned changes to user privacy.

By Tineka Smith

Concern from privacy watchdogs comes after Facebook announced its decision to revoke member rights to vote on privacy policies.
Previously, Facebook users were able to give feedback and influence changes that Facebook made to the site.

However, the company said in a statement that this voting system "incentivised the quantity of comments over their quality."

"We’re proposing to end the voting component of the process in favor of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement," said Facebook in a statement.

The company also announced it will be combining personal information from Instagram and Facebook which has raised privacy concerns among data protection watchdogs.

The move by Facebook has resulted in EPIC, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to propose changes to the new policy.

"We have sought and received clarifications on a number of aspects and have outlined our position in relation to what consent will be required for aspects of the policy," a spokesperson from the Data Protection Commissioner told The Telegraph.

Facebook recently passed audits by the privacy watchdog at the end of 2011 and was even commended in September this year for implementing most of the recommendations proposed to guard user personal data.
However, the company is again under scrutiny again by the privacy group to modify its recent changes.

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"Facebook Ireland has understood this position and we expect the proposed data use policy to be modified to take account of these issues," said the Office of the Irish data protection commissioner.

The Center for Digital democracy and EPIC also sent Facebook a letter to withdraw its planned changes because they "raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law and violate previous commitments to users about site governance."

The privacy groups pointed out that Facebook’s new changes go against an agreement made with the Federal Trade Commission on user privacy.

"Facebook’s proposed changes implicate the user privacy and the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission." read the letter. "The settlement prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information."

"Additionally, prior to any sharing of users’ personal information with a third party, Facebook must make a clear and prominent disclosure and obtain the affirmative express consent of its users."

Facebook’s new policies will also remove user ability to prevent strangers from sending them unwanted messages which raises concerns for spam and Facebook scams.

"By removing users’ ability to prevent strangers from sending unwanted messages, the proposed changes are likely to increase the amount of spam that users receive," read the letter. "Facilitating spam violates users’ privacy and security, as many Facebook scams are accomplished through the messaging feature."




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