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Facebook: CNIL tempers, the government watches

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The CNIL considers that old private messages made public on Facebook are exclusively wall-to-wall messages. Ministers Arnaud Montebourg and Fleur Pellerin remind the social network of its responsibilities.

Following the media and governmental uproar caused by the publication of old private messages on Facebook's Timeline, the Commission nationale informatique et libertés (CNIL) issued its conclusions on Tuesday.

In order to "clarify the conditions of diffusion of the incriminated messages", the CNIL received the leaders of Facebook France last week and contacted international social network managers, in accordance with the request of ministers Arnaud Montebourg and Fleur Pellerin.

 

If the organization seems to be absolving the world reference for social networks, the Minister for Production Recovery and the Minister for SMEs, Innovation and the Digital Economy "remind Facebook of its responsibilities in terms of data protection".

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Facebook back to the wall?

The CNIL considers that the pre-2009 messages made public on the platform's publication block "seem to be exclusively 'wall-to-wall' messages and not messages sent through Facebook's 'private messaging'.

In any event, "the private nature of the content of some of the communications revealed seems indisputable. In other words, users had the impression that they were sending private messages when using wall-to-wall messaging," the administrative authority added by way of a communiqué.

This nuance would be explained by the evolution of the site's operation, its ergonomics and its data confidentiality parameters. Thus, before 2010, "the visibility of wall-to-wall messages was much lower, and these messages [...] were therefore perceived as more private by users," the Commission observes.

Moreover, the CNIL and its partners at the European level (G29) have called the social network to order when it modified "without the users' knowledge" and "unilaterally and repeatedly" the parameters related to data confidentiality between 2009 and 2010.

Due to a lack of vigilance on the part of Facebook users, content that was previously private or accessible to friends was made available to everyone. Many of these messages have recently been rediscovered during the automatic switch to the Timeline...

Giving control back to users

In this context, the CNIL encourages "social networks" to follow the recommendations of the G29 in order to :

- ensure greater transparency for their members regarding their personal data ;

- provide control tools ;

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- collect the express consent of users for "the transmission of their data to third parties or the activation of new functionalities";

- set up privacy-protective default settings.

This simple reminder of the fundamentals was followed by a communiqué from the Ministers for Productive Recovery and the Digital Economy.

"American society must take its responsibilities to prevent similar situations from happening again [and] better respect the spirit and the letter of French and European regulations" on the protection of personal data in the digital environment, said Arnaud Montebourg and Fleur Pellerin.

Finally, the ministers asked Facebook's management to send them "before the end of November" the measures it has implemented to comply with the recommendations of the IT Commission and the European Group of Protection Authorities.

During a hearing this Thursday from 10 to 11 a.m. before the Law Commission of the National Assembly, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, President of the CNIL, speaks on this issue.

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