Facebook forced to introduce new privacy settings by Irish authorities

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook. Photo: Bloomberg

Adrian Weckler

“Intense” engagement with Facebook by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon led to new tools launched by the social network that lets people opt out of online behavioural advertising through Facebook’s service.

Ms Dixon said  an audit completed by her office resulted in the launch of a Facebook tool called ‘Download Your Information’ that allows users to download a copy of their Facebook data. She said that Facebook had also introduced a “privacy checkup tool” in response to the Irish office’s investigations.

And Ms Dixon said that her office was engaged in an “organisational and technical review of settings and controls in relation to advertising, updated and new features such as legacy accounts and family tagging, handling of consent to the use of cookies, personal data inventories, use and retention of location data, use of contact data, and an extensive engagement on details of access request handling”.

Ms Dixon's office has also commenced an audit of Adobe, the multinational software giant that has an operations base in Dublin.

The “technology-based” probe will will be focused on “certain areas of Adobe Systems Ireland’s establishment and products”, according to the annual report of Europe’s most powerful data regulator.

Adobe makes software products that include graphics tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash.

The audit will be one of the first to use a new custom-built forensics unit set up by the Irish office to deal with more complicated technical processes attached to multinationals operating out of Ireland. Any adverse finding could cause Adobe to change some settings on its products.

Earlier this month, a German privacy regulator fined Adobe €8,000 for continuing to transfer data to the US under the struck-down Safe Harbour treaty.

Other companies to come under the Irish data protection spotlight include Linkedin, which is currently being acquired by Microsoft for over €23bn.

Ms Dixon said that discussions between her office and Linkedin have resulted in adjustments to the layout and location of settings on Linkedin members’ profiles. She also said that Linkedin has created a new ‘Cookie Council’ made of company staff to look further into “cookie-related matters across their service offerings and processing operations”.

“We asked that LinkedIn provide more detail in its cookie policy relating to concepts such as Do Not Track, opt-out controls, third-party cookies, non-cookie storage mechanisms and categorisation of individual cookies,” said Ms Dixon.

“To that end, LinkedIn last year established a centralised team of privacy and security engineers in Dublin to test and train engineering and product personnel.”

The Data Protection Commissioner also said that her office has met with Google, Microsoft and other tech giants about privacy issues.

An audit of Apple’s Irish operations, which was previously flagged by Ms Dixon’s predecessor, Billy Hawkes, has yet to get under way.

However, the Commissioner’s office confirmed engagement with AirBnb “in respect of their new establishment in Ireland and the operation of their service and product offering in Europe”.

And the Commissioner said that her office had taken “several meetings with organisations who are exploring the possibility of establishing” a base in Ireland.