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February 2 , 2010

Facebook under the microscope again

New privacy tool focus of public complaint

In response to a new public complaint, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is once again launching an investigation into Facebook, the social networking site whose privacy policies and practices were the subject of a comprehensive probe by her Office last summer.

The complaint focuses on a tool introduced by Facebook in mid-December 2009, which required users to review their privacy settings. The complainant alleges that the new default settings would have made his information more readily available than the settings he had previously put in place.

"The individual's complaint mirrors some of the concerns that our Office has heard and expressed to Facebook in recent months," said Elizabeth Denham, the Assistant Privacy Commissioner who spearheaded the original investigation and follow-up.

"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."

In July 2009, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart released findings of an in-depth examination of the privacy issues raised by the California-based site, which now claims 350 million users worldwide.

Key concerns highlighted in the report related to Facebook's transparency and clarity - specifically, the need to better explain how it handles the personal information in its care. The report also recommended that Facebook provide users with increased control over their personal information. In August, following intensive discussions, Facebook agreed to modify its site in ways that would address the Commissioner's concerns.

Since then, however, changes to the site's privacy information, settings and tools have sparked criticism from users who feel that personal information posted to the site is, in some instances, even more exposed now than before.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will investigate the complaint it has received, while continuing to follow up with Facebook as it introduces new changes to its site. The company committed last August to resolving within a year all of the concerns raised in the first investigation report.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

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