Facebook to Dutch regulators: What's the privacy problem? Nothing's changed

Facebook has called into question the reasons behind the Dutch regulators decision to investigate upcoming changes to its privacy policy.

On Tuesday, the Dutch data protection authority, College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens (CBP), announced that it will be launching an investigation into Facebook's forthcoming changes to its privacy policy.

The reason for the probe, according to CBP, is the new privacy policy "allows Facebook to use details and photos from Facebook profiles for commercial purposes".

Facebook today hit out at the investigation, saying that the planned changes won't affect the site's terms of service.

Facebook: nothing has changed

"Nothing has changed to the new conditions compared to the current conditions in terms of advertising. The way Facebook works has been the same for a very long time and nothing has changed in that regard. This update won't change that," a spokeswoman for Facebook in the Netherlands said.

The spokeswoman added that there is some confusion around which features the CBP is objecting to.

"The press release issued by CBP is very unclear to us, as is the issue that has been raised. Facebook does not use photos of Facebook profiles for commercial purposes. Perhaps CBP is referring to the so-called 'sponsored stories' that we used to offer. We dropped this feature a long time ago. The privacy regulations state that you can give Facebook permission to use your profile picture for commercial purposes, however, Facebook is currently not using profile pictures for commercial purposes.

"It is possible however, that if your friend Pete likes the page 'Borrow my dog' you can see his name appear with an ad for 'Borrow my dog'. This has been a feature of Facebook for a very long time and people have grown used to it. As a user, you have full control over how your data is used, you can determine by means of a simple 'opt-out' in your privacy settings."

CBP didn't contact Facebook

According to Facebook, the company is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (its European headquarters are located in the Irish capital Dublin) which has subjected the company to two audits, which concluded that Facebook meets the appropriate legal requirements and is even moving towards 'best practice'.

"Therefore, we believe that this investigation announced by CBP is unnecessary, since our renewed conditions and policy rules have already been inspected by Irish Data Protection Commissioner. In fact, we are confident that this matter can be resolved fairly quickly, and we would have been more than happy to answer any questions CBP might have had before they took the story to the press - which is something we frequently do with other regulators," the spokeswoman added.

In a statement yesterday, Facebook said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the CBP's investigation.

The changes to the site's privacy policies were announced in November and are due to come into force on January 1 next year. Facebook said information about the changes has already been sent to users of the site, giving them 30 days to decide whether they want to continue using the service.

From 2015, Facebook will use an updated terms of service, data policy, and cookies policy. Among the changes the revamp will bring in are introducing a 'buy' button; asking for permission for the Facebook app to use phone location information; and tighter integration between Facebook and its other services like Instagram - using an account on one to recover login information on the other, for example.

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