Compliance Management, Incident Response, Privacy, TDR

Facebook faces accusations of 22 privacy violations

Canadian legal professionals have filed a complaint against Facebook,accusing the social networking site of 22 separate privacy violations.

The 35-page document from CIPPIC, the Canadian Internet Policy andPublic Interest Clinic, based at the University of Ottawa, allegesnumerous privacy failures. They believe Facebook violates the CanadianPersonal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA).

"Social networking online is a growing phenomenon," said CIPPIC'sdirector Philippa Lawson. "It is proving to be a tremendous tool forcommunity building and social change, but at the same time, a minefieldof privacy invasion."

Lisa Feinberg, a law student at the University, who is behind thecomplaint, said: "We're concerned that Facebook is deceiving its users.Facebook promotes itself as a social utility, but it's also involved incommercial activities like targeted advertising."

CIPPIC's complaint argues that Facebook fails to inform members howtheir information is disclosed to third parties for advertising andother profit-making purposes. It also argues that the site has failedto obtain permission from members for such uses of their personalinformation.

Facebook accused CIPPIC of making "serious" errors. "We pride ourselveson the industry-leading controls we offer users over their personalinformation," said a company spokesperson. "We've reviewed thecomplaint and found it has serious factual errors - most notably itsneglect of the fact that almost all Facebook data is willingly sharedby users. The complaint also misinterprets PIPEDA in a manner thatwould effectively forbid voluntary online sharing of information andignores key elements of Facebook's privacy policy and architecture. Welook forward to working with [Privacy] Commissioner [Jennifer] Stoddartto set the record straight and will continue our ongoing efforts toeducate users and the public around privacy controls on Facebook."

Lawson said CIPPIC chose to concentrate on Facebook because it is thelargest social networking site in Canada, but that later it wouldprobably turn its attention to MySpace. Canada contains Facebook'sthird largest user base after the US and the UK.

Canada's Privacy Commissioner will now hear the complaint, and couldtake up to one year to report her findings. Stoddart often prefersnegotiation to resolve disputes, but can seek court injunctions ifnegotation fails.

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