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Canada Makes Facebook Rein In Its Freewheeling Privacy Settings

Facebook's just announced it's tweaking its privacy settings—a move to allow its users finer control over what private information is broadcast and shared across its network and to Facebook Apps. It's welcome, and arrives thanks to the Canadian government.

Specifically, Facebook's adjusting interface to include "new notifications," its making "additions to Facebook's Privacy Policy", and there are "technical changes designed to give people more transparency and control over the information they provide to third-party applications." The tweaks are the result of an extended dialogue between the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and Facebook's team, a dialogue that goes back over a year. The Canadian government just published a report "gratefully acknowledged Facebook's cooperation in the course of the investigation and commended Facebook for providing its users with extensive privacy settings." The report made some recommendations and now Facebook's implementing them.

Though that sounds innocuous, it's not really—the Canadian team obviously felt there were serious personal privacy exposure risks running through Facebook, and presumably threatened enough behind-the-scenes pressure to make Facebook (no stranger to controversy over its privacy settings) sit up and listen.

Facebook's now committed to tweaking its Privacy policy to better explain why some data is collected—such as date of birth—and to tackle "account memorialization" for a deceased user, how is advertising works (presumably to explain those creepy location-specific ads) along with a few other things. It's also going to encourage users to review their privacy settings to make sure the defaults line up with how protected you think your data is.

Its biggest change is to add a new layer of control over how much of your data gets sniffed by an app when you click on those "Application X needs access to your data"-type windows every time you try out a new one. Soon each app will have to specify what type of information its requiring, and obtain specific consent from a user before moving on. Apps will also have to ask users to deliberately approve access to their friend data—which could then be subject to individual friends privacy settings. That's pretty significant—and it suggests that there have been circumstances where app developers are playing fast and loose with all sorts of data skimmed from your profile when you click "OK" on an app. The new layer will definitely improve knowledge of what data you're sharing with apps as a user, but it adds in significant coding requirements for app writers—Facebook notes in its developers blog that it's planning a "lengthy beta period" for its updated APIs to help with this, during which developers get "opportunities [...] to provide input" on Facebook's "multiple blog posts and updated documentation".

At least all these changes sound like their positive—and will help users, unlike Facebook's previous ill-fated attempts to foist changes in its Terms and Conditions on its customers. We particularly like the public-education part: Maybe it'll deflect some of the non-net-savvy anti-Facebook law suits that're pending.

[via Facebook, Developers]