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facebook-probed-in-europe-over-privacy-issues

The social media giant has continued to bound and leap from one legal issue to another. Some time ago we looked at the Belgian government vs Facebook Lawsuit. It didn’t quite pan out well though. The media giant had to part with some million dollars as settlement for damages and a review of its privacy statement in the Belgese Locale. However this week it seems there has been a little respite from the cavalcade of lawsuits and files. This time it is Facebook vs the United States government. The operations of Facebook and many other US-based companies in Europe could be disrupted after a 15-year pact between the two regions was declared illegal. Europe’s highest court on Tuesday ruled invalid the “Safe Harbor” agreement that governed the transatlantic transfer of data on European citizens. Reached in 2000 by the European commission and US authorities, it allowed companies to send user data to the US without guaranteeing that the information would be protected from the eyes of the US government. More than 4,000 US companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, that transfer user data out of the continent will be affected by the ruling. Having relied on the arrangement to do business since some of them were in their infancy, the affected companies will now need to draw up individual and complex contracts, each of which will require negotiations over the protection of user data. While some companies may have seen the ruling coming and started putting provisions in place, the verdict was delivered much more swiftly than anticipated. The EU and US had been attempting to renegotiate Safe Harbor for two years, but failed to agree to terms, and officials won’t provide a concrete date at which they hope to finalize a new pact. The EU wants Europeans to be able sue US companies in US courts if their data is misused; US negotiators seemed inclined to agree, but politicians could refuse to grant European citizens the right to sue. In recent days, executives and other employees have hunkered down in Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, debating how to address the backlash to two recently launched features. One encourages users to share more about their online activities with Facebook, while another personalizes other websites with information about users’ Facebook friends. Participants are discussing whether to implement new controls that allow users to conceal their profiles more universally, according to people familiar with the matter. Such tools would represent a big shift from Facebook’s current approach of giving users multiple controls for specific parts of their profiles, and are an option Mr. Zuckerberg has resisted. On Monday, rival MySpace said it would simplify its privacy settings by giving users the option to select one privacy setting for all the information in their profiles. MySpace is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.

People familiar with the matter say some changes to Facebook’s privacy settings could be announced as soon as this week. A Facebook spokesman said in a statement: “We know we are respected for our innovation in sharing and we want to be just as well-regarded around our innovations for control. And the conversations in the company reflect that.” People familiar with the matter say that in recent weeks, executives have discussed topics as sweeping as whether to change the default settings on the site, although the company has no current plans to do so. The company can’t afford not to act. The Federal Trade Commission is taking a close look at how online social networks are using people’s data, and people close to the matter say it is increasingly focused on Facebook. “We agree that social networks provide a valuable consumer service, but that they also raise privacy concerns,” an FTC spokesperson said, adding that it had already brought several cases against social networks. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the FTC scrutiny. A cottage industry of programmers have taken to exposing Facebook privacy issues. A site called YourOpenBook.org searches the public status updates of users, which have grown since Facebook began recommending users make their status updates public late last year. Any person, even someone without a Facebook account, can easily conduct searches with the tool and bring up users’ public photos and names along with what they wrote—a little-known feature within Facebook. The tool is based on technology that Facebook released to developers so third-parties can incorporate content from Facebook for their websites.

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