EU law will stop Facebook 'eavesdropping' for advertisers
Published 27/11/2011 | 05:00
FACEBOOK is facing curbs on how it exploits its users most personal information to create bespoke advertising.
The European Commission is planning to stop the social network 'eavesdropping' on its users to gather information about their political opinions, sexuality, religious beliefs and even their whereabouts.
Using sophisticated software, the firm harvests information from people's activities on the website -- whatever their individual privacy settings -- and makes it available to advertisers.
However, following concerns over the privacy implications of the practice, an EC directive to be introduced in January will ban such targetted advertising unless users specifically allow it.
Even though most of the information it harvests is stored on computers in the US, if Facebook fails to comply with the legislation it could face legal action or a fine.
The move threatens to damage Mark Zuckerberg's plans to float on the Wall Street stock exchange next year, by undermining the way Facebook makes money.
Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission, said the directive would amend European data protection laws in light of technological advances and ensure consistency in the way offending firms are dealt with across the EU.
"I call on service providers, especially social media sites, to be more transparent about how they operate. Users must know what data is collected and further processed (and) for what purposes," she said.
The information analysed and stored by Facebook is not limited to users' personal details and 'likes' and 'dislikes' that they input on their 'walls'.
The firm also gathers details about their friends, family and educational background, and detects changes to their lifestyle, enabling it, for example, to target a bride-to-be with advertising for wedding photographers.
Everything people share with their friends on Facebook is being tracked by the firm, retained, and can be used for commercial purposes. It can even 'eavesdrop' on messages by performing keyword searches on behalf of advertisers. In this way, it can find out, for instance, details about people's political beliefs or their sexual preferences.
Next week, the EU's data protection working party will discuss an audit of the company's working practices being conducted by the data protection watchdog in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters.