Canada will keep an eye on Facebook Platform expansion for privacy

Yesterday's introduction by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of a vastly expanded form of the Facebook Platform -- enabling Web sites to gather information on users' "likes," share them with Facebook, and get traffic as a result -- did not slip past the office of Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart.

In a statement to Betanews this afternoon, Comm. Stoddart acknowledged this expansion will be of special concern to her office, especially in light of existing concerns raised by the service's latest round of privacy policy adjustments. Some say those adjustments actually exposed more information to potential data miners than it was exposing before, leading them to question the company's motives for attaining that data in the first place.

Though Comm. Stoddart concedes she hasn't had time to investigate the technical details of Facebook's service, revealed yesterday at the f8 developers' conference, she's seen press reports including ours, and concerns were raised. "This is an area of long-standing concern for us, and has been the subject of formal investigations by our Office," the Commissioner told us.

As you may recall, we published findings last July into an in-depth investigation into Facebook's privacy policies and practices, some of which related to the disclosure of personal information to advertisers, applications developers, and other third parties. As a result of that investigation, Facebook promised that, within a year, it would take all necessary steps to fully address the issues we raised in our recommendations. They are continuing to work on this undertaking, and we have been monitoring their progress.

In the meantime, last December, the company made significant privacy-related changes to its site. Some of those changes sparked concern among users. A key area of concern was the new "transition tool," which required users to revisit their privacy settings.

Under the privacy law, we are required to investigate complaints from the public, and so we launched a new investigation in January. With this investigation open, we will continue to examine all of Facebook's practices as they affect the privacy of Canadian users.

As incentive to encourage developers to make use of the newly expanded platform -- as well as to make its new "Like" associations functional for developers at all -- the company also announced yesterday it's lifting a previous restriction on developers' use of personal data attained from its API. Previously, developers were only allowed to store data attained through API calls for 24 hours; now, apparently, no such limit exists at all.

The blog Inside Facebook trumpeted the news as positive for developers. Wrote reporter Justin Smith: "The removal of this policy means Facebook is making it easier for developers to build richer applications on top of user data originally sourced from Facebook. Developers will be really happy about this change."

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