After putting Google on notice, Dutch privacy watchdog eyes Facebook

Dutch privacy watchdog launches probe into Facebook's privacy policy

A day after issuing an ultimatum to Google to adhere to its privacy regulations or face a penalty, the Dutch Data Protection Authority announced a probe into Facebook’s privacy policy for handling user data and photos.

The national privacy watchdog of the Netherlands said Facebook’s revamped privacy policy, which is due to take effect Jan. 1, should be delayed until it determines "what the consequences for the privacy of Facebook users are” and how it will “get permission for the use of their personal data.”

Facebook announced changes to its privacy policy in November, introducing tools like Privacy Basics — an interactive Q&A site — to help users understand what kinds of data the social network collects. The site explained that Facebook gathers information from users like types of content viewed, device information, ISP, mobile number and IP address, and activity on and off Facebook from third-party partners. The social network also said the data were collected to “promote safety and security” and “show and measure ads and services.”

A Facebook representative said in an emailed statement that the company was “surprised and disappointed” to learn about the investigation.

“We recently updated our terms and policies to make them more clear and concise, to reflect new product features and to highlight how we’re expanding people’s control over advertising,” the statement said. “We’re confident the updates comply with relevant laws.”

Facebook’s European headquarters is in Dublin, Ireland, so its privacy policy must comply with the EU Data Protection Directive as implemented under Irish law. If the social network’s policies are found to be in breach of privacy laws, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner would intervene, like it did in 2012 when it ordered Facebook to delete data collected for its facial recognition feature for European users and change its policies related to the retention and deletion of data.

Facebook’s privacy policy revamp was announced Nov. 13, marking an attempt by the company to make its complex policies more user-friendly. The revamp included a change in the design of its policy pages to feature interactivity and animation, a shortened privacy policy (down from 9,000 words to 2,700 words) and more accessible language (the policy now uses words like “people” instead of “users”). These friendlier features follow the introduction this year of the little blue Privacy CheckUp dinosaur, who walks users  — er, people — through their privacy settings.

Twitter: @traceylien

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