Facebook Brings More Clarity to Privacy Policy, Social Ads

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-30

Facebook made good on its pledge to revise and clarify its privacy policy Oct. 29, offering detailed explanations on how users can alter their account information or erase their profiles from the social network.

Facebook calls this the next step on the path to "run Facebook in an open and transparent way," a goal the company began working toward earlier this year after the Privacy Commissioner of Canada asked Facebook to clarify its privacy practices.

"Specifically, we've included sections that further explain the privacy setting you can choose to make your content viewable by everyone, the difference between deactivating and deleting your account and the process of memorializing an account once we've received a report that the account holder is deceased," wrote Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications and public policy, in a blog post.

Facebook explains in detail how users may change or delete their profile information, including their friends, photos and videos, at any time by going to their profile page and clicking "Edit My Profile." Changes made will be updated immediately.

Users who want to stop using their account can halt it on their account settings page or even delete it by going here. Facebook saves the profile information of users who elect to deactivate their accounts so that the users can easily reactivate their profiles later. Users who opt to delete their account get exactly what they wish for; it is permanently deleted.

The deletion of data on Facebook has been a sticky issue for the company in the past, with users believing that once they deleted their accounts, their Facebook data was nuked from the Internet.

Where Facebook has done a much, much better job is making it clear that even deleted data may be alive elsewhere. After all, this is the Web, where published data is copied and cached ad nauseum. First, removed and deleted data may exist in backup copies for up to 90 days, even though Facebook will not make this info available to others.

Also -- and this is important -- Facebook said that when users remove information from their profile or delete their account, copies of that information may exist with the friends that data has been shared with, or who may have copied or stored the data.

"However, your name will no longer be associated with that information on Facebook," wrote Schrage. "For example, if you post something to another user's profile, and then you delete your account, that post may remain, but be attributed to an "Anonymous Facebook User. Additionally, we may retain certain information to prevent identity theft and other misconduct even if deletion has been requested."

Moreover, for users who have passed away, Facebook is inviting friends and family to memorialize their deceased loved ones' accounts by e-mailing the company via this form. By memorializing the account of someone who has passed away, people will no longer see that person appear in their Suggestions. Facebook will also set privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search.

Facebook also took steps to explain how its social ads work. Social ads are shown to Facebook users that include relevant info about their friends. For example, if a user become a fan of a Page promoting a product, their friends may see an ad that includes that information.

However, the information Facebook provides to advertisers about its users anonymized. For example, Schrage noted that Facebook won't tell an advertiser that a user clicked on an ad, but it could report that 63 of 100 people who clicked on an ad were female.

This is old news to social media buffs, but the lay user is not likely to be aware of how the social ads work, which is why it's important that Facebook is calling attention to it now when it has 300 million-plus users.

Facebook encourages users to read the privacy update and leave comments on the Facebook Site Governance Page before the comment period ends at 12 p.m. PST on Nov. 5. 

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