Remember when Canada’s officials reprimanded Facebook for playing fast and loose with user’s private data? Well, in the light of the recent controversial changes to everyone’s Facebook profiles, Canada’s privacy commission has started a new inquiry.
The new moves were spurred by a complaint from a Canadian Facebook user concerning the pop-up tool Facebook used to force everyone to adjust their privacy settings last December. Under the guise of looking like it was making users think more about their data privacy, this system was a little suspicious–and we called shenanigans. So did this particular user, who complained to the Privacy Commission that the pop-up’s default settings (which no doubt many millions of users accepted without a second’s thought) could make individual’s data more public than previous settings had made them.
The Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, notes that the office was already examining Facebook’s moves in this direction, but the new complaint brought the matter into the spotlight. “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 data” she remarked. The Office “will investigate the complaint it has received, while continuing to follow up with Facebook as it introduces new changes to its site.”
Will Facebook care about this? Almost certainly, but not because it’s particularly worried by the Privacy Commission. Facebook did make some concessions on user data protection at the recommendations of the Canadian officials last year, and it might well listen again. Because the investigation itself throws a light into an area of Facebook’s business that it would probably prefer to keep shadowy. As it tries to turn itself from a closed friend-to-friend service into an open, public-sharing one Facebook is basically trying every trick it can (including helpfully “redefining” what it considers to be private data about its users, without giving anyone the option to disagree). And it’s all in chase of money–the kind of money that real-time status updates are earning Twitter after its deal with Google. Facebook would probably prefer to hush up the Canadian questions, lest its user base start to campaign for changes again.