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(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Facebook agrees to privacy changes Add to ...

Facebook has agreed to changes that will bring the social-networking site into compliance with Canada's privacy law while still leaving unanswered the key question of exactly what changes users will see enacted.

New notifications for users, additions to the site's privacy policy and technical changes that allow users to choose which data they share with third-party applications will all be rolled out over the next year.

"We're satisfied that, with these changes, Facebook is on the way to meeting the requirements of Canada's privacy law," said Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

The organization that brought the issue to the commissioner called the announcement "a huge win."

"We've seen the global impact of our privacy laws," said David Fewer, interim director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.

When implemented, the changes will affect all Facebook users, not just Canadians or those in Canada.

Facebook said it had "set a new standard in the industry."

"Our productive and constructive dialogue with the commissioner's office has given us an opportunity to improve our policies and practices in a way that will provide even greater transparency and control for Facebook users," said Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice-president of global communications and public policy.

But the slow pace of change frustrated Mr. Fewer. "Here we are 15 months after the complaint, and we don't really have a resolution, we have an ongoing dialogue," he said.

Facebook is developing a new privacy tool that will allow users to set "more granular" default settings. But that change will take another four to six months to be implemented.

One set of changes will mean reprogramming of the site, and require the co-operation of the hundreds of thousands of third-party application developers who create games and quizzes for the site. The company will require applications to specify what information the application wants to access, and obtain express consent from the user before the application gets that data.

Currently, users must give access to all of their personal information on Facebook to the developer if they want to use an application.

Some major third-party developers have not heard from Facebook about what's expected of them.

"We've not received any specific contact from Facebook regarding their planned changes," said Lily Lin, spokesperson for Slide, a developer that makes the Super Poke application.

Another developer, Sebastian de Halleux of Play Fish, which makes the Pet Society game, was pleased with the move, but said most of the technical changes would be done by Facebook.

"The timelines will be driven by Facebook. On our side, it's a light change," Mr. de Halleux said.

Facebook said the changes to the third-party application platform would take 12 months.

Facebook also committed to making it easier to memorialize account holders who have died, and easier for a user to delete an account altogether.

The current-account settings show users how to deactivate their accounts with a few clicks, but Facebook keeps the data. The option to delete an account is available, but hidden and hard to find.

The Privacy Commissioner office's has yet to see how the user would encounter these changes on his or her screen when logged on to Facebook, although Facebook did provide draft language around some of the proposed changes.

Since the fixes haven't been implemented, Facebook will stay in the commissioner's sights for a while.

Meanwhile, the commissioner said another major networking site whose identity she would not disclose had contacted her office. The site will be meeting with her to see how it can comply with Canadian privacy law.

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