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    Globe and Mail: Facebook users risk blackmail, privacy czar warns

    The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart raised questions about social-networking site Facebook’s policies and how they could affect personal privacy. Commissioner Stoddart last year filed a report from looking into a complaint (pdf) against Facebook that was filed last year by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (“CIPPIC”). The Commissioner found that on four subjects at issue (third-party applications, account deactivation and deletion, accounts of deceased users, and non-users’ personal information), the allegations were well-founded and Facebook was found to be “in contravention of the [Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act].”

    The world’s most popular social network has made it easier for its users to become the victims of “blackmail” by watering down its protections of personal information, Canada’s top privacy official says.

    Facebook executives this week unveiled a series of changes to the site, which now boasts about 400-million users. One of the changes allows third-party developers who design games and other Facebook applications to store user data indefinitely. Previously, developers were required to delete the data after 24 hours.

    “I’m very concerned about these changes. More than half a million developers will have access to this data,” Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, said in an interview in her Ottawa office. “The information will be stored indefinitely and it opens the possibility that a lot of people can be blackmailed from all corners of the world.” […]

    After she concluded a 14-month investigation of Facebook last year, the website committed to installing better safeguards by a deadline this summer, including allowing its users to block makers of such popular applications as the game Farmville from culling private information and photos.

    “They certainly seem to be moving in the opposite direction,” Ms. Stoddardt said. She said the regulator was surprised by the announcement and it does not intend to take any steps until after the deadline expires at the end of July for the social media giant to reform its privacy practices.

    Facebook representatives told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that privacy concerns “are always at the forefront of any new product development.” […]

    Ms. Stoddart said the company’s apparent about-face is the latest in a series of aggressive innovations by “bright young geeks” at Internet companies such as Facebook and Google, who are so enthralled with technology that they are not focusing on basic privacy rights that other brick-and-mortar companies respect. As these Web giants seek to profit from their extensive stores of demographic data, they are finding themselves increasingly at odds with privacy regulators.

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