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Facebook OKed by Canada privacy czar (for now)

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Facebook has resolved the data-sharing issues that lead to an investigation by Canada's privacy commissioner, according to the commissioner herself. But she says her work with Facebook isn't over.

"While we are satisfied that the changes address the concerns raised during our investigation, there is still room for improvement in some areas," reads a statement from Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. "We’ve asked Facebook to continue to improve its oversight of application developers and to better educate them about their privacy responsibilities."

Among other things, the commission was concerned that third-party developers on the social networking site had "virtually unrestricted access" to the personal information of the site's users, but Stoddart says that Facebook has successfully addressed this issue. "Facebook has since rolled out a permissions model that is a vast improvement," she says. "Applications must now inform users of the categories of data they require to run and seek consent to access and use this data. Technical controls ensure that applications can only access user information that they specifically request."

Stoddart is also pleased that Facebook has simplified its privacy settings and allowed users to apply separate settings to each photo or comment they post. "It has been a long road in arriving at this point. These changes are the result of extensive and often intense discussions with Facebook. Our follow-up work was complicated by the fact that we were dealing with a site that was continually changing.," she says.

"Overall, Facebook has implemented the changes it promised following our investigation."

But the commission will continue to keep a close eye on the ever-changing site. "Facebook is constantly evolving and we are actively following the changes there – as well as on other social networking sites. We will take action if we feel there are potential new violations of Canadian privacy law," Stoddart says. "As well, we have received several further complaints about issues that were not part of our first investigation and we are now examining those."

This includes a complaint over Facebook’s invitation feature and the Facebook “Like” buttons on third-party sites. ®

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