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Facebook privacy changes

27 November 2014

Facebook has announced that as of 1 January 2015 it will be up-dating its data policy, cookies policy and general terms.

Why? Well, officially, Facebook wants to “make sure people understand how Facebook works so they can make informed decisions and control their experience” and also “make privacy information more accessible”.

However (unofficially and cynically), one cannot help but think the up-dates may be, at least in part, a response to intense criticism over the social network’s privacy practices. Europe-v-facebook.org, ‘Tag Suggest’ using biometric technology and the recent ‘Mood Manipulation experiments have all made headlines.

Another contributing factor may also be the hefty fines currently proposed under the draft general data protection Regulation for non-compliance (up to 5% of annual worldwide turnover/EUR 100 million).

What then are the main changes?


Speaking of the new up-dates, the Official Facebook Site Governance page states that:

“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your settings. We get this question a lot, and it's one of the first things you'll find in our updated terms”.

In fact, this is nothing new from the existing terms whereby users grant Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that [they] post on or in connection with Facebook”.

The only notable difference is that users will, apparently, have increased control over how their content is shared by adjusting their privacy and application settings.

Location data

In relation to location data, Facebook says that the new up-dates will mean that users will have “more control of whether they share [their] precise location with Facebook”. They will also be able to decide whether they share their location when using the ‘check in’ function or share the location a photo was taken.

Facebook’s increased attention in the area of location data may be pre-emptive of the proposed US Location Privacy Protection Act (the Location Bill).

Under the Location Bill Facebook will be required by law to obtain individuals’ permission before collecting location data from their devices and before sharing it with others. Non-compliant companies will be liable for fines of up to $1million per violation.

With billions of registered users, the cost of non-compliance with this Bill would far outweigh current sanctions available to European data protection authorities for breaches of privacy law!

Ad control

In the past, if users opted out of certain types of advertising on their laptops, that choice may not have been applied for ads on their other devices. From 1st January, however, users should be able to make a single choice in respect of ads across their devices.

Whilst it is good to see that Facebook is giving its privacy policy a make-over and is introducing interactive tools to help users control their information, the issue still remains that it is very difficult to really understand how Facebook processes personal information.

It was only whilst researching for this article, for example, did I realise that in October of this year, Facebook began to allow marketers to advertise to Facebook users based on their specific location whilst I was still of the view that ads were targeted based on the “current city” listed on your profile.

Facebook is indeed making steps in the right direction, but unfortunately it still has a long way to go in providing clear, transparent and accessible privacy information.

This article was written by Janine Regan.

For more information contact Janine on +44 (0)20 7427 6798 or janine.regan@crsblaw.com