RealTime IT News

Facebook Rejiggers Privacy Rules Following Probe

As part of a settlement agreement with Canadian regulators, social-networking giant Facebook posted a revamped privacy policy this afternoon, offering what it hopes will be a clearer and more acceptable framework for governing how it treats its users' personal information.

Facebook has been burned by privacy flare-ups several times in its brief history, and is seeking comment from its users on the new guidelines before settling on a final version.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications and public policy, called the new privacy guidelines the "next step in our ongoing effort to run Facebook in an open and transparent way."

That process began in February when, reacting to widespread criticism over a change to the site's terms of usage, Facebook rolled out a statement of rights and responsibilities and a set of guiding principles, asking users to submit and vote on changes to the documents.

"We now are doing the same with our privacy policy," Schrage said in a blog post. "Our primary goals remain transparency and readability, which is why we've used plain language and included numerous examples to help illustrate our points."

The controversy that set the democratic process in motion at the beginning of the year stemmed from concerns that Facebook was asserting perpetual control over its users' information and content, even after they deleted their account.

In response, Facebook has stated unequivocally that users own their own data, and further fleshed out its position on the ownership issue with the privacy policy released today.

Policy on deleting Facebook accounts

Facebook explained that when a person deactivates their account, the company will continue to store the information in the event a user wants to reinstate their profile. That is distinguished from deleting an account, which Facebook said will permanently remove the information from the Internet.

Facebook said that copies of a user's information could remain in its back-up files for up to 90 days.

But the catalyst for today's changes came from the agreement Facebook reached in August with Canadian authorities, who after a year-long inquiry had threatened to sue the company if it did not give users more meaningful notice and control over its privacy policies.

Today's announcement follows word from the company last night that application developers would have to adhere to a new set of guidelines to give users more explicit notice about how their information is collected and used, another part of the settlement agreement with Canada's privacy commissioner.

In the privacy policy update, Facebook cautions that content users have posted could persist on the site even after they have deleted their account, such as if copies had been made or if the person posted content on a friend's profile. Content such as wall posts or photos would no longer be identified by the person's name, however, but would rather be tagged "Anonymous Facebook User."

Facebook also laid out the terms of some of its advertising policies, which have on occasion caused the company considerable grief in the past. Facebook receives information from its advertising partners about how users responded to ads served up on the site in what is known as conversion tracking.

This common practice of sharing data is aimed at helping content sites get a better feel for the effectiveness of the ads they serve up. Facebook promised to anonymize the personal information it received from its ad partners after six months.

Facebook posted its new privacy policy in five languages, and is giving users until 12 pm PT Nov. 5 to comment.