Privacy Office reviews Facebook ‘Like’ button

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has officially closed its original investigation into the social networking site, but will look into new complaints, including the 'Like' button.

Facebook isn’t in (much) trouble with the Feds anymore, but the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has opened a new investigation regarding the ‘Like’ button and the website’s invitation functionality.

In a statement released yesterday, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart said she has closed her investigation into privacy concerns surrounding the social networking site first filed in 2008 by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), noting she was satisfied with the changes made.

The investigation focused on three main complaints: the sharing of users’ personal information with third-party app developers, the default privacy settings on user accounts and the language in the site’s privacy policy. The results of the investigation were first released in July 2009, in which the Commissioner identified the complaints she found to be valid and asked Facebook to respond. The site agreed to make changes in accordance with the report, and was given a year in which to do so.

Wednesday’s announcement marks the end of the year-long investigatory process, with the Commissioner remarking that the changes made were ‘reasonable and meet the expectations set out under Canadian privacy law.’

Changes made to the site include a limit on the amount of user information that is shared with third-party app developers and a requirement for developers to identify what info they’d like to use and seek the user’s consent to use it. The privacy policy was also clarified, and default settings more clearly labelled and easily used.

‘It has been a long road in arriving at this point,’ the Commissioner stated in a release. ‘These changes are the result of extensive and often intense discussions with Facebook. Our follow-up work was complicated by the fact that we were dealing with a site that was continually changing. Overall, Facebook has implemented the changes it promised following our investigation.’

The Commissioner did note, however, that new complaints have been raised in regards to the ‘Like’ button that media outlets can incorporate into their site – part of Facebook’s Open Graph platform – and its invitation feature. Open Graph allows websites to include Facebook functionality on their pages – specifically the ‘Like’ button. When a visitor ‘likes’ a website, a connection is created between that site and the user’s Facebook account, allowing the website to publish updates to that user and including their brand in that user’s account profile. The Office declined to comment on, or specifically identify, the nature of the complaints, due to the fact the investigation is still open.

Although Facebook Canada managing director Jordan Banks was not available for comment on Wednesday, the site’s chief privacy counsel, Michael Richter, said in an official statement that the company was confident it will ‘resolve any outstanding concerns the OPC may have’ in regards to the new complaints.

‘Giving people control over their information has always been a priority for Facebook and we appreciate the dialogue we’ve had with the OPC to clarify and enhance our privacy practices,’ he stated. ‘Both Facebook and the OPC share the same goal of ensuring that everyone, including the more than 15 million people using Facebook in Canada, have control over their information.’