New Facebook policy raises alarms over sharing of user data

November 24, 2012

Facebook’s new privacy policy violates EU law, raising concerns over the sharing of private data with affiliated business without user consent. US privacy experts expressed concern over how Facebook shares this data with advertisers.

European Data Protection Commissioner Gary Davis has asked for Facebook to clarify its new changes to users’ privacy policy. As commissioner, Davis is responsible for ensuring that Facebook complies with EU and Irish law.

"We will be seeking urgent further clarification from Facebook Ireland and if we consider that the proposed changes require a specific consent from EU users we will require Facebook to do this," Davis told the Irish Times.

Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes responded to Davis’ request via email, the Washington Post reported.

“As our company grows, we acquire businesses that become a legal part of our organization. Those companies sometimes operate as affiliates. We wanted to clarify that we will share information with our affiliates and vice versa to help improve our services and theirs,” Noyes said.

Davis believes that Facebook can avoid potential legal troubles by giving the European users the ability to clearly accept or reject data-sharing with affiliates such as Instagram. Facebook purchased the photo-sharing company for $1 billion in April.

“We’ve already engaged with Facebook,” Davis said. “We expect Facebook to be reverting [to previous policies] on these issues.”

When Facebook's new privacy changes were first announced, critics focused on Facebook's elimination of allowing users to vote on proposed new policies. For European regulators, however, the main issues were privacy concerns and how Facebook handles personal data.

US privacy advocates also raised issues with how Facebook now makes more personal data available to advertisers without users’ explicit consent, which violates a consent decree between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is tasked with promoting consumer protection.

Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy Jeff Chester said that it is still unclear how Facebook is using the personal data it records.

“Facebook is not really telling users what this means and how this is going to work,” he said. Chester’s organization is planning to join the Electronic Privacy Information Center in a complaint to the FTC about the proposed Facebook policy changes.

Earlier in August, the FTC approved a settlement with Facebook after charging it with misleading users about information privacy when it changed its policies in 2009.

As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to get permission from users before changing the way it shares data, and to submit to third-party audits of its privacy practices every two years for the next 20 years.

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