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EC To Stop Facebook Eavesdropping

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An EC Directive will ban information harvesting on social networking sites for targeted advertising

Facebook will have to stop the way it gathers personal information about its users, it has been reported.

According to the Telegraph, the European Commissionwants to stop the way that Facebook “eavesdrops” on communications and gathers information on users’ sexuality, political leanings, religious beliefs and locations.

Changing the rules

Despite the various levels of privacy settings available on Facebook, the site is still able to harvest information based on user activity, and make the data available to advertisers, for a more bespoke approach to selling.

The privacy implications of this behaviou have led to a new EC Directive, to be introduced in January, banning such targeted advertising unless users specifically allow it. The EU’s data protection rules currently date back to 1995.This major modernisation of the rules will have a profound effect on how data privacy issues are treated in the European Union and beyond, said the commission in a statement, earlier this month.

This is on the back of widespread criticism reported recently over security and privacy issues at the social networking site, including the recent audit by the Irish data protection authorities, resulting from the Europe Versus Facebook campaign.

Although much of the data the company acquires is stored at its US data centres, Facebook will still be subject to the new legislation, and according to the Telegraph, failing to comply could mean legal action or fines.

“There is no connection between the privacy settings people choose and our advertising,” said Facebook in the report. “Whether you use your privacy settings to keep your profile very private, or very public, everyone sees the same amount of advertising down the right hand side of the page. Adverts are personalised to the individual user. We do not track peoples’ behaviour to serve advertising,” said a company spokesperson. The company also insisted that advertisers were not privy to people’s names and only saw “anonymous and aggregate information.”

Viviane Reding, the vice president of European Commission, said that as a result of this reform process, “Consumers in Europe should see their data strongly protected, regardless of the EU country they live in and regardless of the country in which companies, which process their personal data, are established,” adding that users should be in control of their data.

“This is why in our view, EU law should require that consumers give their explicit consent before their data are used. And consumers generally should have the right to delete their data at any time, especially the data they post on the Internet themselves.”

According to the Telegraph, Facebook’s  4,000 word contract, which all users must agree to , licenses the company to use personal information as it sees fit.