Canada Launches Facebook Privacy Probe

An unidentifed University of Missouri student looks through Facebook while in class Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, on the Columbia, Mo. campus. AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Canada's federal privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into Facebook after four students complained that the popular Web site violates Canadian law by disclosing personal information to advertisers without proper consent.

The University of Ottawa law students, some of whom are dedicated Facebook users, allege in a complaint lodged Friday that the social networking Web site has committed 22 violations of the law.

"There's definitely some significant shortcomings with Facebook's privacy settings and with their ability to protect users," said Harley Finkelstein, 24, one of the students behind the complaint.

Facebook has refuted the claims, saying that the complaint ignores key elements of the company's policy.

"We've reviewed the complaint and found it has serious factual errors - most notably its neglect of the fact that almost all Facebook data is willingly shared by users," Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly said Friday in an e-mail.

Kelly said Facebook has worked with Ontario's information and privacy commissioner to create a brochure and video that will educate users about the site's privacy controls.

Canadian law mandates that sensitive information such as a person's address, sexual preference, birth date and school, can't be disclosed without gaining express consent. On Facebook, users must specifically change their settings to keep that information private.

Under Canadian law, the privacy commissioner has up to one year to investigate the complaint and make recommendations. The office plans to launch a Web site next week to educate youth about privacy on the Internet.
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