Canada's Privacy Commissioner Probes Facebook Over Users Private Information

Canada is again taking on Facebook and once again privacy issues are at the heart of its dispute with the social networking behemoth.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) this week launched another investigation into Facebook's new privacy policies after a complaint by a Canadian Facebook member that new default settings installed on the site in December made his information more widely available than before.

"The individual's complaint mirrors some of the concerns that our office has heard and expressed to Facebook in recent months," Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement. "Some Facebook users are disappointed by certain changes being made to the site, changes that were supposed to strengthen their privacy and the protection of their personal information," Denham added.

In an e-mail statement to, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the company had not seen the latest complaint. Schnitt added: "We are confident that the transition process begun more than a month ago was transparent, consistent with user expectations and within the law."

"Specifically, the announcement and education campaign by Facebook around the changes was unprecedented in its scope and included a detailed preview of the changes and flows with the OPC," Schnitt wrote.

Last July, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard released the findings of a previous investigation and said Facebook needed to more clearly explain how the company handles the personal information of its members. Stoddard also recommended that Facebook give members better privacy controls.

Last December, Facebook revised its privacy settings and required all of the social network firm's 350 million active members to review their settings. The changes included new notifications about privacy and technical changes designed to give people more control over the kind of information that they provide to applications created by third parties, such as games and quizzes.

Under a new system, which Facebook said will take about a year to fully implement, those applications will ask users for permission to access specific types of information as they are needed. Currently, applications ask users upfront whether they want to allow access to all, or just part, of their information.

Canada to Probe Facebook After Complaints About Privacy Rules

Facebook says it will also add an online tour of privacy features that users can review when signing up, as well as make clearer the distinction between "deleting" and "deactivating" an account.

Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard University, and a researcher at Microsoft Research New England, says the changes are good but that Facebook could go further.

"The goal here should be to let users have control over their own information," she says. "They shouldn't have to rely on their friends' choices to keep control over their personal information."

Facebook's settings allow users to restrict such information, but sharing is turned on by default.

"These new privacy changes aren't so great for privacy," says Nicole Ozer, northern California technology and civil liberties policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's great that 350 million people are being asked to think about privacy, but if what Facebook says is true about giving people more control over their information, they have a lot more work to do."

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada's office says it will investigate the complaint it has received, while continuing to follow up with Facebook as it introduces new changes to its site.

Facebook has faced more than its share of controversies some of which prompted them to revise and clarify how it handles users' data.

It was sued in California last year by five users who claimed the company fails to compensate its users for harvesting their personal data and for violating laws that protect consumers from having information they upload to the site shared with third parties, such as advertisers. That suit is still pending. Facebook has said the suit is groundless.