New Facebook policy conflicts with European law, concerns privacy advocates

By Craig Timberg, Updated: Friday, November 23, 1:34 PM

Elements of Facebook’s proposed new privacy policy conflict with European law, a key regulator said Friday, as he moved to give users on the continent more power to block the sharing of their data with the company’s affiliates, such as Instagram.

Regulators alerted Facebook about the problem shortly after the company announced major changes to how it will treat users’ personal data on Wednesday, said Gary T. Davis, deputy data protection commissioner in Ireland. His office oversees Facebook operations for all of Europe because the company’s headquarters for the continent are in Dublin.

The proposed policy also drew criticism from American privacy advocates, who said that the changes would make more data available to advertisers without users’ explicit consent, in violation of last year’s consent decree between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission. The agreement stemmed from complaints about the company’s handling of personal data.

“Facebook is not really telling users what this means and how this is going to work,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. His group is planning to join the Electronic Privacy Information Center in filing a complaint with the FTC about the proposed Facebook policy changes. The agency declined to comment on Friday.

In Ireland, Davis expressed confidence that the company would make revisions, giving European users the right to explicitly accept or reject data-sharing with affiliates such as Instagram. Facebook acquired the company for $1 billion in April, but it remains a separate legal entity.

“We’ve already engaged with Facebook,” Davis said. “We expect Facebook to be reverting [to previous policies] on these issues.”

When the changes to the policy were announced, public attention focused on a related shift that would eliminate a system allowing the company’s users to vote on proposed new policies. But Irish regulators were more concerned about how the company handles personal data.

Data regulators from Europe and several other regions in October sharply criticized Google for revisions to its privacy policy after the company began allowing more extensive sharing of personal information across a range of its services, such as Gmail, YouTube and the Chrome browser.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mail on Friday: “As our company grows, we acquire businesses that become a legal part of our organization. Those companies sometimes operate as affiliates. We wanted to clarify that we will share information with our affiliates and vice versa to help improve our services and theirs.”


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