Facebook executives may finally be getting the message that they can't continue to ride rough shod over the privacy rights of the social network's uses.
The Irish Data Commission announced Wednesday that Facebook has agreed to change its policies to improve transparency and better protect data of its users. The agreement has global impact because Facebook's International headquarters is in Dublin and it is responsible for operations outside the United States and Canada.
The agreement came after a three-month audit of Facebook's privacy practices. The commissioner said Facebook "has agreed to a wide range of 'best practice' improvements to be implemented over the next 6 months, with a formal review of progress to take place in July of next year.” Among the changes Facebook will implement:
- Simpler explanations of privacy policies.
- Easier accessibility and prominence of the policies during registration and subsequently.
- An enhanced ability for users to make informed choices.
Facebook's indefinite retention of information of what advertisements users had clicked on was also deemed "unacceptable." The social networking giant said it would "move immediately to a two-year retention period.
"It is not the object of the audit, to decide whether there is a breach of law," Billy Hawkes, the data protection commissioner, told the Associated Press. "It is to help an organization achieve full compliance with law, put their compliance into best practice."
"Facebook has committed to either implement, or to consider, other 'best practice' improvements recommended by the data protection commissioner," the company told the AP following the announcement of the report. "Meeting these commitments will require intense work over the next six months.
Cutting through everyone's blarney, Facebook has been told to get it right about respecting users' privacy and the regulators will be back in six months to make sure it happens.
The Irish announcement comes after a consent agreement on this side of the pond with the Federal Trade Commission. It calls for more privacy protections and privacy audits of Facebook for the next 20 years.
Both agreements are significant and substantially increase privacy protections for users. Do I think Facebook has fundamentally changed its philosophy? Nope, it's just that the possibility of a first public stock offering has a way of making executives want to play nice with government regulators. The initial Facebook offering is expected this spring.
But here's the catch for Facebook, as well as the good news for consumers, with these agreements in the U.S. and Ireland regulators now have the tools to hold Facebook executives' feet to the fire going forward.