Speeches

Remarks at a Press Conference on the Facebook Investigation

August 27, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Address by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and welcome.

As you all know, my Office has been taking an in-depth look at the privacy practices and policies of Facebook. This investigation was prompted by a complaint from a privacy advocacy group – the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa. Our investigation was led by Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who will speak with you shortly.

Last month, we told you that, at the end of our investigation, we felt there were still some important areas where the personal information of Facebook users could be at risk. We also believed users needed to be better informed about what was happening with their personal information.

This morning, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that – following further discussions with Facebook – the company has now agreed to make several changes which address the issues uncovered during our investigation.

Key Results

We’re satisfied that, with these changes, Facebook is on the way to meeting the requirements of Canada’s privacy law. The privacy of people using the site – not only in Canada, but around the world – will be far better protected.

This is hugely significant. Facebook has 12 million users in Canada alone – more than one third of our population. There are 200 million users worldwide.

All of those users will have a far clearer picture of how their personal information is being shared once Facebook implements our recommendations.

They will also have much more control over what they are sharing and with whom.

Here’s an example of the changes coming.…

During our investigation, one of the biggest concerns we raised was the over-sharing of users’ personal information with third-party developers who create popular Facebook applications such as games and quizzes.

Facebook has agreed to retrofit its application platform in order to prevent developers from accessing users’ personal information – unless users provide explicit consent. This is an extremely important change.

Importance of Investigation

Increasingly, the protection of personal information is a global issue. Our personal information is now constantly circling the planet.

In this case, we had a social networking site based in another country collecting and using the personal information of Canadians in a way that was not in compliance with Canadian laws.

As Privacy Commissioner, I would hope that, in the future, more due diligence in the area of privacy will be done by global technology firms.

Our investigation has demonstrated that our law is pragmatic and it works for something as new as social networking.

Canada is the first country in the world to complete a comprehensive investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. I know that European regulators and the Australian Commissioner have also begun looking at social networking issues.

This investigation has clearly struck a chord worldwide. People using social networking sites do care about their privacy. We’ve received many calls and emails thanking us for taking on these issues – not only from Canadians, but from people as far as France and India.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to thank Facebook for its cooperation throughout this investigation.

The company has been responsive to our recommendations.

With these changes, Facebook could show other online companies that you can have an incredibly successful online company that’s responsible and respectful of privacy rights.

And now I’ll turn the microphone over to Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who will further explain how Facebook is responding to our recommendations.