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What’s going on with Facebook’s privacy?

There’s no doubt that the Facebook phenomenon is one of global proportions. Virtually everyone has an account, and most people have at least a few friends who seem to live their entire lives on the social networking site. Do we really care if you’re bored to tears at work? Do we want to see those pictures of that ugly scar? No. Good Lord people, no one gives a damn! I sometimes find myself in a cycle of adding and deleting information off my profile. But I suppose this is what Facebook is all about – sharing information!

I’ve noticed that lately Facebook isn’t making the news for it’s rapid growth around the world, but for privacy concerns that are causing users to significantly alter their usage of the site, and in some cases delete their profiles entirely. The main privacy issue surrounds Facebook’s agreement with third party developers to create applications, quizzes etc. that use the personal information of users without being subject to Facebook’s own privacy policy.

This is what Facebook says about third-party sharing of information:

When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you.  The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. 

A report was recently issued in Canada stating that Facebook’s privacy policy contravenes Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  The Canadian report, cites a number of concerns, including a lack of adequate safeguards to restrict outside software developers  i.e. games, quizzes and such – from gaining access to personal profiles of users and their online friends. The investigation by Canada’s privacy office started at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.

A word of warning to those who are tempted to complete the next Facebook quiz or take part in the next Farmville challenge that comes your way:

 As mentioned above, we do not own or operate the applications or websites that use Facebook Platform. That means that when you use those applications and websites you are making your Facebook information available to someone other than Facebook.

Facebook seems to be embracing the idea of third pary sharing of information and allowing other applications and websites to draw upon the information of users. Recently, Facebook announced the implementation of a new feature called “open graph.” This feature brings Facebook like functionality to a number of websites, allowing you to comment, and “like” things. I was browsing CNN the other day and noticed one of my friends name under a little Facebook box on the article. It was a little creepy so I then took a good look at my privacy settings and made a few changes. It isn’t clear how many users are deleting this profiles, but since April, Facebook has apparently added more than 10 million users.

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