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Under an agreement with California's attorney general, Facebook has agreed strengthen privacy controls for consumers who use online applications on their smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices.

The agreement extends the reach of California’s privacy protections beyond mobile apps to include social apps in Facebook’s App Center, used by millions of consumers worldwide. The agreement is designed to increase compliance with California law requiring apps that collect personal information to have a privacy policy.

Informed choices

“Consumers deserve to be able to make informed choices aboutmhow much personal information they want to share with others when using social apps,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris. “We are delighted that Facebook has joined Amazon,Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard,Microsoft, and Research in Motion to provide consumers with greater control and information about how their personal data is used.  We need to protect privacy while we foster innovation.”

Harris released a letter from Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan announcing the company's decision to adhere to the agreement.

“As you know, the Joint Statement’s principles embodied essential protections for Californians and others who use mobile apps by encouraging companies that provide mobile app markets to give developers the ability to provide a link to their privacy policies and to display those links along with other app details,” Egan wrote. “As we built the App Center, we were guided by the principles contained in the Joint Statement.”

11 year effort

Harris began her efforts on behalf of the privacy principals back in 2001. The Act requires operators of commercial web sites and online services, including mobile and social apps, who collect personally identifiable information about Californians to conspicuously post a privacy policy. The posting of a privacy policy promotes transparency and provides consumers with more informed control over their personal information.

The agreement recognizes the Facebook App Center’s role as a clearinghouse for a variety of social apps, Harris said.

California law requires all operators of commercial web sites and online services, including mobile and social apps, who collect personally identifiable information about Californians to conspicuously post a privacy policy.

“We are very pleased that Facebook has incorporated the Principles into the design of the App Center and that Facebook requires, as a condition of participating in the App Center, that developers submit a link to a privacy policy,” Harris said. “We are also pleased to see that Facebook is prominently displaying the link to an app’s privacy policy in the App Center, and is implementing a means to report and remediate privacy issues.”

Past issues

As it rapidly grew over the past few years, Facebook has faced some privacy-related lawsuits. In 2010 the company was sued over changes made to Facebook's privacy settings in late 2009, when the company changed the default setting for scores of user information to public.

As a result, users' names, photos, and friend lists all became available for everyone to see, even if the user had previously specified that only her friends could view it. In order to make the information private again, the user had to affirmatively go in and change the settings back. 

The company also settled Federal Trade Commission charges last year that it wrongly divulged users private information.


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