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    Financial Times Editorial: Protecting privacy

    The Financial Times discusses social networking sites and privacy in a recent editorial.

    So it is to be welcomed that Europe’s data-protection commissioners have decided that a new regulatory framework is needed to protect privacy in this new world. Facebook, which has emerged as the leader in this open social web, has shown encouraging signs of grappling with these issues, for instance, by giving its users more controls over how their information is shared. At times, though, that has only come after loud complaints from users, and the trial-and-error approach of one company needs the backing of a coherent framework of regulation.

    At a minimum, any third parties that ride on top of social networks should be limited by the privacy permissions that users have already given to the networks themselves. It is not always clear that they are. Far greater transparency is also needed. Signing up to an application usually means being asked to grant broad permissions without knowing what personal data will be used or how. There is often no information about the application’s developer or even a link to a privacy policy.

    Social networks also need to be bound by a general principle that applies to other internet services: that obtaining a broad permission from users when they sign up for a service does not confer an indefinite blanket approval. Users must be made aware of how much personal information about them has built up and prompted to think again about how they want that to be used, with tools that promote an informed decision rather than simply pester users with constant requests for permission.

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