Facebook responds to sermon from the Mounties

It is interesting to note that Facebook will be making changes to its privacy policy reacting to the threat of legal action from Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.  Amongst other things, the changes will limit the data that Facebook can share with third party applications without asking the user’s permission, and changes to the default privacy settings.  Facebook’s Applications have been one of the reasons it has been so successful – early on it opened up its system, allowing developers to write applications that users can easily download and install on their Facebook pages.  However, there have also been cases of rogue applications abusing this openness for criminal activity and the BBC demonstrated how easily this could be done last year.

In recent years, as Facebook as grown into a 200 million user social network, it has repeatedly come under fire, for amongst other things ‘infantilising the human mind’, but more usually for its privacy policices.  While the system does allow users to protect their privacy and only display certain data publically or to their friends, many of the stories of scares and slips that have occurred have been due to users just not understanding or caring about how much information they were giving away, resulting from the default settings being more open than many would consider safe.  Most recently, the wife of the new head of MI6 posted pictures and personal family details on Facebook, having left her account wide open for all to see, resulting in embarrassment and an expensive security headache.

What this latest news from Canada shows is that an international service like Facebook is having to react to Privacy bodies in multiple countries.  So many commentators are saying a big “thank you Canada” for taking the lead and effecting a change that will benefit the world (of Facebook users at least).  What it also points to is that while we should each take responsibility for our privacy and security online, the default settings applied by a site will dictate the settings for the majority of people, who may not understand the implications of revealing too much about themselves to the world at large, or even that the settings can be changed.

Damien Behan

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