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Canadian Privacy Commissioner Gives Facebook Privacy a Thumbs Up

Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s privacy commissioner, has reported that the changes that Facebook has made to its privacy settings have satisfied her concerns. She warns, however, that she’s not finished scrutinizing the personal-information powerhouse.

Stoddart said in a statement Wednesday that Facebook now has new measures to limit information sharing with third-party application developers and now provides users with information about its privacy practices.

Stoddart credits “extensive” and “intense” discussions with Facebook, and admits that there is still “room for improvement.” She has warned Facebook not to expand the categories of user information that come up in web searches, which users can’t control through their privacy settings. She has also recommended changing the default settings for photos, which are set to be visible to “everyone on the Internet,” though some of the site’s other changes have mitigated this concern.

Applications now need to tell users which categories of data they require access to in order to function. To Stoddart, this is a step in the right direction. To the teen who would click on anything just to get access to his Facebook virtual farm, it probably doesn’t make any difference.

Admittedly, Facebook has improved their privacy policies and made controls more granular. For example, users can easily apply custom privacy settings to each comment or photo that they post. However, the extent to which young Facebook users pay attention to these settings, and their understanding of the permanence of this public information, is unclear.

I’m no expert, but all of this personal information seems like it could come back to bite young people in the future when they grow a little more concerned about what public information exists about them.  We can’t rest assured that this information will be private forever.  Take a look at some recent quotes from Google’s Eric Schmidt:

“The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data,” Schmidt said at the Google Zeitgeist conference. “Failing that, there are other ways to get that information.”

“We know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.”

“We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: We know where you are, we know what you like.”

“I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.”

“When I walk down the streets of Berlin, I like history. What I want is for my computer — my smartphone — to be doing searches constantly. Did you know? Did you know? Did you know? This occurred here. This occurred there. Because it knows who I am, it knows what I care about, and it knows roughly where I am.”

“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a (verified) name service for people. Governments will demand it.”

“If I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use Artificial Intelligence,” Schmidt said, “we can predict where you are going to go.”