Seoul pushes for Facebook privacy

The South Korean telecoms regulator is demanding changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, adding to a growing criticism of the way the popular social networking site handles the personal data of its 580m users.

The Korea Communications Commission joins an international chorus of criticism over Facebook’s handling of personal information. Authorities in Canada and Germany have been among the most vocal.

The website has adjusted its default privacy settings following criticism over the way it allows some third-party sites to access and share its users’ preferences. But, the Korea Communications Commission said, the way Facebook notified users about how personal information was collected and went about getting their consent for its use remained “inadequate”.

If Facebook offers personal information to a third party, it needs to notify users of the purpose and the period in which the details would be used, the commission said.

The Korean regulator has given Facebook, which has about 2.3m users in South Korea, 30 days to submit a plan on how it will comply with its demands. The commission said it would impose a fine or take other actions against Facebook if the site does not implement “corrective measures”.

Facebook has faced questions from German and Swiss regulators over its practice of allowing users to upload pictures and information about other people without their explicit permission. Brussels has made it clear that privacy will be one of its key issues, and a privacy organisation last year asked the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate the social networking company.

Choi Kyoung-jin, an analyst at Good Morning Shinhan Securities, said South Korea was taking tougher measures against Facebook at a time when the site was making rapid inroads into the country.

“As its privacy policy is becoming problematic worldwide, it may be time for Korea to point out things that were not mentioned before, asking for stricter conditions for providing user information to third parties,” he said.

In a statement, Facebook said: “Since the beginning of the company, we have continued to adapt our privacy practices to ensure that people have access to simple, easy-to-use privacy settings and that our privacy policy is transparent.”

After facing threats of legal action from Canada’s privacy commissioner, Facebook announced sweeping changes to its privacy policy last year, limiting the amount of data that third-party applications would be automatically granted.

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