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Facebook forced to grow up by Canadians

August 28, 2009

Wel, Facebook has finally been forced to grow up  and develop a sensible approach to personal data. Previously, as I have documented elsewhere, the US-based social networking site had pretty much assumed ownership of all personal data in perpetuity. However it has now promised to develop new privacy and consent rules and ways of allowing site users to chose which data they will allow to be shared with third parties.

So why the sudden change of heart? Well, it’s all down to those pesky Canucks. Yes, where the USA couldn’t bothered and where the EU didn’t even try, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, had declared Facebook to be in violation of Canada’s privacy laws. And it turns out that in complying it was just easier for Facebook to make wholesale changes for all customers rather than trying to apply different rules to different jurisdictions.

This suggests an interesting new phenomenon. Instead of transnational corporations being able to always seek out a country with the lowest standards as a basis for compliance on issues like privacy and data protection, a nation with higher standards and an activist regulator has shown itself able to force such a company to adjust its global operations to its much higher standard. This is good news for net users worldwide.

However, we shouldn’t rejoice too much: as Google and Yahoo have shown in the case of China, in the absense of any meaningful internal ethical standards, a big enough market can still impose distinct and separate policies that are far more harmful to the interests of individual users in those nations.

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