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Data cops seek 'urgent clarification' on new Facebook advertiser plans

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Facebook never fails to whip up a frenzy about privacy each time it proposes changes to its personal-content advertising platform. This time around users are slowly starting to complain about the risk to security posed by the company's plans to help "improve the quality of ads."

Needless to say, Facebook is entirely answerable to its shareholders and Wall Street now that it's a grownup rather than a startup - to paraphrase HP's Meg Whitman. The fact is that users come a distant tenth behind the advertisers in the first nine places on Facebook's do-I-care chart, even if that means a potential regulatory tussle with data protection bods in Europe.

And so it has already come to pass that the Irish DP commissioner is sniffing around Facebook's latest plans. The regulator's office told The Register that it is seeking "clarity" from Mark Zuckerberg's firm regarding the proposed rewrite of its privacy policy.

Facebook's European operation is headquartered in Ireland and the company has already been in touch with the Irish DPA about the plans.

A spokeswoman at the commissioner's office told us:

We note that this is the consultation stage of their process and that until that stage is over these changes will not be tabled to users. We are currently examining the proposed changes and consider that further clarity will be required in relation to the full effect of some of the changes.

We will be seeking urgent further clarification from Facebook Ireland and if we consider that the proposed changes require a specific consent from EU users we will require Facebook to do this.

The company - which plunged onto Nasdaq in May this year - is doing everything it can to shake as much ad revenue out of the site as possible by unsurprisingly proposing to open its users' data even more. Some have suggested that this means Facebook will build unified profiles of its users akin to, say, those of Google+.

For example, now that photo-sharing site Instagram is part of the Facebook family, one of the proposals is for the company to share data across its growing estate.

Facebook is likely to implement the following change [PDF, page 15] on 28 November:

Sometimes we get data from our affiliates or our advertising partners, customers and other third parties that helps us (or them) deliver ads, understand online activity, and generally make Facebook better. For example, an advertiser may tell us information about you (like how you responded to an ad on Facebook or on another site) in order to measure the effectiveness of - and improve the quality of - ads.

We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of, or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates). Likewise, our affiliates may share information with us as well. We and our affiliates may use shared information to help provide, understand, and improve our services and their own services.

Not really that surprising though, is it? After all, Facebook is front and centre a free-content ad network. It takes the content its users give it, and runs ads by them.

On top of that plan, Facebook is also expected to tweak the way users determine who can and can't send messages to them on the site. It's set to take away a a setting called "Who can send you Facebook messages" and will replace it with new filters for users to manage messages they receive on the site.

El Reg asked Facebook if this effectively meant that the site was slowly trying to morph the messaging part of its service into something similar to that of Google's Gmail or Microsoft's Hotmail. But we were admonished for speculating. ®

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