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Facebook updates, clarifies Data Use Policy

The Data Use Policy update from Facebook serves to clarify the social network's data practices and is up for discussion until the end of the week.

Facebook has released an updated version of its Data Use Policy, clarifying the social network's practices and potential future uses of user data.

Facebook's chief privacy officer for policy, Erin Egan, says the update follows the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's audit of the social network's data practices.

While the audit concluded Facebook had a “positive approach and commitment” to respecting privacy rights of users, Egan says the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's Office “encouraged” Facebook to enhance its policy and to better detail how the company uses information.

The update now provides more information on how Facebook uses user data to operate and advertise. A key change is the clarification that Facebook may in the future use users' data to serve targeted ads to users when they are on Web sites outside of the social network.

In Facebook's explanation of changes made to its data policy, the social network says: "We're also clarifying our existing disclosure that we might show ads off Facebook to explain that, if we showed these ads, they may or may not include social context (such as whether your friends have 'liked' a particular business)."

CNET notes that should Facebook roll out such a feature, it would be in direct competition with Google's main revenue stream.

Following the controversy surrounding Facebook's use of cookies and its supposed tracking of users, the social network has also moved to clarify that it uses them for internal improvements rather than tracking.

Clarification

Another key update is Facebook's detailing of the way in which it will retain users' data “as long as necessary to provide you services” – this is typically when a users' account is deleted. However, data such as group posts or sent messages are not stored in the user's account and will, therefore, not be deleted if the user's account is deleted.

The majority of changes are purely clarifications of previously stated policies, and Facebook says the intention is simply to make its practices easier to understand.

Egan says the new policy also reflects the new features introduced by Timeline. According to Egan, users can now use the “Activity Log” feature to adjust privacy settings for every piece of content posted onto the Timeline.

A redline version (PDF) of the updated policy is available for Facebook users to review. Egan will host a live-streamed video Q&A later today (Monday, 14 May) in which she will answer user questions regarding the policy update.

“We work on user privacy issues each and every day – it matters. We listen closely to your advice and together we can make Facebook the community we want,” says Egan.

According to Facebook, since the implementation of its collaborative site governance process in 2009, the social network has processed over 60 000 user comments on proposed policies.

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