Facebook boosts application privacy controls

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Facebook boosts application privacy controls

Long-awaited changes finally implemented on social networking site.

Facebook has announced measures to improve user control of information shared with third-party applications.

Bret Taylor, chief technology officer of Facebook, explained on the firm’s official blog that it has introduced a “new, simpler application authorisation process”, which means that third-party apps have to “explicitly ask” for permission before accessing private information.

The application will still be able to access public parts of a user’s profile such as their name, gender, profile picture and networks. Statistics released by Facebook show that every month more than 70 per cent of its users engage with third-party applications.

Privacy concerns have dogged Facebook since August last year, following an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada into the site’s privacy policies and practices.

The investigation raised concerns over third-party application developers, as well as deactivation of accounts and the personal information of non-users.

Just last month 10 privacy campaign groups, including the Centre for Digital Democracy, wrote an open letter to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg outlining specific privacy concerns they wanted addressing. Top of the list was for Facebook to fix the security “app gap”.

At the time of the Canadian investigation, Facebook committed to a timeline to implement recommendations and Taylor said today that these third-party app changes form “part of our work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Canada”.

As of today, a new “Request for Information” box will appear when users install a new application, or first log in to an external website with their Facebook account.

The box clearly outlines what information it wishes to access and lets the user decide whether to allow the application to do so or not.

“These improvements reflect two core Facebook beliefs: first, your data belongs to you; second, it should be easy to control what you share,” wrote Taylor.

“If at any point you ask a developer to remove the data you've granted them access to, we require that that they delete this information.”

Ovum principal analyst Mark Little said that "privacy debacles" from firms like Facebook have raised public awareness about privacy and the reliance of certain internet firms on users' data to make their money

"Facebook’s latest privacy step goes someway towards fulfilling Ovum’s recommendation that social networking sites should provide a satisfactory level of transparency and control as an essential first phase of regulation," he added.

"This way, users can start to learn and understand where their data goes and how it is used.”

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