Facebook calls for clearer, standardized user data privacy policies

Facebook Inc is calling for clearer, standardized user data privacy policies as part of a white paper focused on potential regulation while governments around the world move to tighten restrictions on how companies can collect information.

Customer privacy policies — the often long, complicated outlines for how companies collect and use data — are too difficult for people to find and understand, according to Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan, the paper’s author. Presenting important information via push notifications and pop-ups is also flawed, Egan wrote, as they have become so common that many people don’t always read them.

“In short, the current practices for informing people about how companies use their data, and the laws setting out transparency requirements, may be insufficient to provide meaningful notice to people,” she concluded in the paper released Wednesday. In an interview, Egan said the paper was intended to increase discussion around these issues and come up with more efficient ways to inform users.

Facebook has been criticized repeatedly over its privacy practices and data policies. A Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company’s data collection resulted in a $5 billion fine last year, and Facebook pledged to make a number of changes to its privacy practices, including to its internal corporate structure. India and Australia have recently began actions to tighten online data collection.

The paper, which is intended for academics, regulators and policy advocates, mostly outlines a series of observations and questions Facebook executives have about the current state of user privacy, including whether there should be industrywide standards. Egan suggested film ratings or nutrition labels put on food packages as examples of the kind of simple disclosures she wants the industry to consider.

“We really like the idea that they provide a standardized way of explaining information to people,” Egan said. “At this juncture I think all ideas should really be put on the table.”

Egan acknowledged in the paper, however, that standardization poses other problems because many products use different types of information.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has called for privacy regulation in recent years, suggesting such rules would give the company more clarity about what it can do. Critics have argued that regulation could actually benefit larger tech companies like Facebook, which have more resources and employees in place to adhere to them.

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