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Canadian privacy watchdog launches investigation into Facebook's response to its previous investigation

Canada's Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation into changes Facebook made to its privacy policy. The changes were made in response to an investigation the Privacy Commissioner carried out last year.29 Jan 2010

The Commissioner will look into whether the changes actually worsened the situation, making it more likely for the private information of users to be published.

The Privacy Commissioner's office said that a number of people object to the changes introduced by the social networking giant. It said that this investigation was prompted by one particular complaint about the way that Facebook changed its privacy settings in December of last year.

"The complaint focuses on a tool introduced by Facebook in mid-December 2009, which required users to review their privacy settings," said the Commissioner's office in a statement. "The complainant alleges that the new default settings would have made his information more readily available than the settings he had previously put in place."

In December Facebook did not actually change users' settings but did invite them to use a new tool for controlling their privacy settings. That tool's default position was to make quite a lot of information available to a wide network of Facebook users, and would have made more information available than was previously typically the case.

While users could use the tool to restrict the spread of information, many users typically agree to accept the default settings chosen by the publishers of software and makers of web services.

“The individual’s complaint mirrors some of the concerns that our Office has heard and expressed to Facebook in recent months,” said assistant commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who was responsible for last year's Facebook investigation.

“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 information," she said.

The Commissioner's investigation last year found that Facebook was not clear enough about how users of the service could control access to their information and did not do enough to stop other companies accessing it.

The investigation found that information on how to change privacy settings and delete accounts was hard to find and confusing.

Facebook's attempts to fix those problems, though, may have caused others. "Changes to the site’s privacy information, settings and tools have sparked criticism from users who feel that personal information posted to the site is, in some instances, even more exposed now than before," said the Commissioner's office.

Facebook previously faced criticism over its failure to allow users to delete accounts. They could disable them but could not prevent their data staying on Facebook servers, present but invisible to the public.

The company then allowed deletion but faced further criticism for not making that option obvious enough and for putting it in a different part of the site to the account disabling function.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that he believed that privacy was no longer a 'social norm'.

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that's evolved over time," he said in a speech at an electronics trade show.

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