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Facebook facing US and European privacy probes


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 30 Sep 2011 at 08:57

Social network Facebook is under official scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic as regulators plan to probe the company over privacy issues, including the recent admission it was tracking users even after they had logged out.

The data commissioner in Ireland, Facebook's European base, has said it will conduct a privacy audit after receiving 22 complaints from a campaign group call Europe versus Facebook.

The Federal Trade Commission in the US, meanwhile, is also planning an investigation after a consortium of privacy groups wrote to the regulator criticising Facebook's “frictionless sharing” of browsing activity.

“This audit will examine the subject matter of the complaint, but also will be more extensive and will seek to examine Facebook’s compliance more generally with Irish data protection law,” Gary Davis, Irish deputy data protection commissioner, told the Financial Times.

Facebook's frictionless sharing and post-log-out tracking harms consumers throughout the United States by invading their privacy

The investigation is significant because Facebook's operations outside the US and Canada come under Irish and European law, because of its base in Ireland.

The complaints to the Irish commissioner involve data collection and privacy settings, with the privacy group saying it was “targeting the disputed 'Like' button, Facebook’s privacy settings that seem to be rather easy to circumvent and 'deleted' pictures that are still public on the internet after deletion”.

The FTC investigation will focus on the the level of sharing, and in particular the recent disclosure that a login glitch meant user ID details were tracked even after end users had signed out.

“Facebook's frictionless sharing and post-logout tracking harms consumers throughout the United States by invading their privacy and allowing for disclosure and use of information in ways and for purposes other than those to which users have [given] consent and relied upon,” the group said in an open letter.

Facebook admitted the login glitch recently and has since moved to address the problem.

Facebook has yet to return requests for comment, but regarding the Irish action the company told the FT that it “looked forward to demonstrating our commitment to the appropriate handling of user data as part of this routine audit.”

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