Facebook agreed on Thursday to give its worldwide users better protection over their personal information as the result of negotiations with Canada's privacy commissioner.
The changes will give users of the social networking website more transparency and control over the information they provide to third-party developers of applications such as games and quizzes, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart announced.
As well, Facebook will make it clear that users can delete their accounts, not just deactivate them, if they do not want their information kept indefinitely. And information about nonusers will be better protected.
These changes mean that the privacy of 200 million Facebook users in Canada and around the world will be far better protected, Stoddart said in a statement.
She had ruled in July that Facebook had serious gaps that breached Canadian privacy laws. The company swiftly agreed to address them in a way that meets her concerns and will also apply to developers and subscribers around the world.
This is a global change, Stoddart told reporters.
We're satisfied that, with these changes, Facebook is on the way to meeting the requirements of Canada's privacy law, she said, noting the popular website has a year to make the changes.
Facebook, which lets users share pictures, videos, news stories, opinions and private and public messages, has 12 million Canadian users.
Canada is the first country to complete a full investigation of Facebook's privacy practices. Stoddart said European and Australian regulators had also begun looking at social networking issues.
The outcome of Canada's investigation could influence the practices of other social networking websites, such as MySpace. Stoddart said another major site has already approached her office to discuss its approach.
She plans to release a paper in coming weeks analyzing the practices of other sites as well.
We believe that these changes are not only great for our users and address all of the commissioner's outstanding concerns, but they also set a new standard for the industry, said Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice-president of global communications and public policy.
However, analysts and officials cautioned that users still needed to be careful about how much information they put on Facebook.
All the personal information that the privacy commissioner is worried about advertisers stealing -- we (users) put it up there in the first place, said Duncan Stewart, an analyst with DSAM Consulting.
The regulator first started its investigation of Facebook as a result of complaints by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.
The assistant commissioner who negotiated with Facebook, Elizabeth Denham, said her office had been alarmed by the lack of safeguards applied to the more than one million developers of third-party applications around the world.
The notion that some teenager working in a basement halfway around the globe could have access to all this personal information was unsettling, to say the least, Denham said.
(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson)