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Facebook will beef up privacy in Europe after Ireland probe

Facebook will make the improvements over the next six months, the Irish data protection agency says.

December 22, 2011|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco — Facebook will improve privacy protections in Europe over the next six months after an investigation into its practices there, the Irish data protection agency said Wednesday.

The agency conducted a three-month audit of Facebook's compliance with European Union and Irish data protection requirements.

Facebook, the Menlo Park, Calif., company that has its European headquarters in Dublin, has agreed to give users more information on how Facebook and third-party apps handle their information, minimize how much data is collected on users when they are not logged in to Facebook and warn European users that Facebook uses facial recognition software that suggests people to tag in photos.

The Dublin headquarters has responsibility for handling hundreds of millions of users outside the U.S. and Canada.

"This was a challenging engagement both for my office and for Facebook Ireland," Irish Data Protection Commissioner Gary David said in a statement. "Arising from the audit, [Facebook Ireland] has agreed to a wide range of 'best practice' improvements to be implemented over the next six months."

There will be another formal review in July.

The agency received 22 complaints from a privacy group, Europe V Facebook, and additional complaints from the Norwegian Data Protection Agency. Facebook said it was pleased that the report underscored a number of Facebook's "strengths or best practices" in the security of user data and using personal information to target ads.

"The people who use Facebook take privacy and data protection seriously and so do we," Richard Allan, Facebook's director of public policy for Europe, said in a blog post.

Last month, Facebook agreed to settle privacy complaints raised by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The proposed 20-year agreement would require Facebook to get permission from users before sharing information they thought would remain private. The company also agreed to 20 years of privacy audits.

Facebook has run into trouble with its facial-recognition software that suggests people for users to tag in their photos. A German data protection agency said it might fine Facebook over the feature and Norway's privacy watchdog is investigating.

Facebook, the world's most popular social-networking site, is planning a $100-billion initial public offering next year.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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