Facebook under spotlight for tougher privacy lawsEU could crack down on social networks

28 November 2011


The European Commission is planning to clamp down on websites, such as Facebook, that use personal information about users such as their sexuality, religious beliefs and where they live for targeted online advertising.

In an interview with The Telegraph president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, calls on ‘service providers, especially social media sites to be more transparent about how they operate.’

‘Users must know what data is collected and further processed and for what purposes.’

This would put pressure on Facebook to be more transparent about how it uses information such as the personal Likes and Dislikes you post on your wall. It would also need to be clear about whether it’s sharing your data with advertisers and online apps

Dr Rob Reid, senior policy advisor for Which? said: Social media networks such as Facebook collect a vast amount of information about their users, much of which is freely given by the users themselves. Facebook assures its users in its privacy policy that personal identifiers such as your name are removed from the data before it is shared with advertisers. But the sheer volume of information held by the network means that it may not be that hard to use bits of information like a jigsaw to piece together who a person is.’

‘Any changes to the law that offer consumers more transparency, control and protection of their personal information must be welcomed. If there is nothing to fear from the activities of social networks then why not provide complete transparency to consumers that use them?’ he added.

Facebook 'fully compliant' with EU Law

Facebook responded by saying that its users have expressly consented to targeted advertising. 'People on Facebook have given consent to receive targeted advertising through our terms when they sign up to our free service – unlike other online advertising models. We have spent considerable time and effort building an ads model which allows people to see relevant targeted advertising whilst respecting their privacy'

'We are fully compliant with EU law, have our international headquarters in Dublin and unlike some other online services, we do not use tracking technology to serve adverts. Our system only provides advertisers with anonymised and aggregated information for the purpose of targeting ads. We do not share people's names with an advertiser without a person's explicit consent and we never sell personal information to third parties,' added a statement by the company.

EU rules could apply to any company

Reding also called for rights to be standardised across Europe and to apply regardless of where companies are based. ‘Consumers in Europe should see their data strongly protected, regardless of the EU country they live in and regardless of the country in which companies which process their personal data are established.’

This would force American-based companies such as Facebook and Google to adhere to European wide laws on how they share your information.

Facebook was also keen to point out that it does not share personal information with advertisers.

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