Regulator forces Facebook to change data policy

The privacy watchdog responsible for regulating Facebook in Europe is understood to have forced the social network to change one of its latest proposed policies that would see it blend user data with that of Instagram.

Facebook’s first brand campaign.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), which presides over the social network’s European headquarters in Dublin, says it expects Facebook’s proposed data use policy to be modified to allow users a greater level of consent over the way their actions and content on the site can be used by the company.

A spokeswoman at the Irish DPC told technology blog The Register: “We have sought and received clarifications on a number of aspects and have outlined our position in relation to what consent will be required for aspects of the policy.”

It is not yet clear the exact aspects of the policy Facebook has agreed to change, but it is thought to relate to the Instagram data share proposals.

Facebook was hoping that by combining data from its platform and the photo sharing app it acquired earlier this year would be able to help the company offer brands more targeted advertising opportunities.

The social network said in a statement last week when it first emerged the Irish DPC had contacted the company: “We are in regular contact with our regulators to ensure that we maintain high standards of transparency in respect of our policies and practices. We expect to maintain a continuous dialogue with the Irish DPC as our service evolves.”

Facebook’s proposals to combine its user data with that of Instagram have also been opposed by two privacy campaign groups – The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) – which wrote a joint letter requesting the company reconsiders the amends to its policy.

They also object to Facebook’s plans to stop users’ ability to vote on changes to its privacy policy, which it has allowed since 2009 for any change that attracts at least 7,000 comments. It is also looking to change users’ inbox default settings, which could lead to members receiving more unwanted messages from other users or spam from companies.

The letter says: “Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, maybe contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes.”

In the UK, the Open Rights Group is writing to the Information Commissioner’s Office to ask it to examine the changes in Facebook’s privacy policy and act on them in a similar way to other data protection authorities elsewhere.

In April Facebook reached a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over claims it had deceived users into sharing more information than they realised. Under the settlement, Facebook must obtain user consent for significant changes to its privacy settings and must commit to 20 years of independent audits.

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