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Europe Demands Facebook Privacy Policy Reform

Europe has jumped aboard the bandwagon of privacy rights organizations calling for privacy policy changes from social networking giant Facebook.

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Specifically, Europe is demanding an opt-in system that doesn't publicize a user's personal information without their explicit consent.

The European complaint to Facebook was filed by Article 29 Working Party, a group of European data protection agencies, which was also responsible for filing privacy rights complaints against search engine giant Google.

Specifically, the Working Party's letter urges Facebook to implement a default opt-in policy while restricting all personal data exposure only to user-selected contacts. Furthermore, the group says that Facebook should not expose any personal user data in search engines or any application unless unquestionably directed by the user.

The group also said that Facebook privacy policies that allow third-party applications to use information from its users' friends' lists also violate privacy laws if those friends haven't given their "free and unambiguous consent" to Facebook to expose their personal information.

As of late, Facebook has made a concerted effort to quell the firestorm of attacks from privacy rights organizations and government leaders. Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage told The New York Times Wednesday that the social networking company was a proponent of strong privacy policies and alluded to the fact that it planned to implement changes down the road.

"They'll have to do something," said Greg Sterling, an independent analyst and contributing editor for Search Engine Land in a TechNewsWorld interview. "But they're not likely to do anything significant until they feel like the costs of doing nothing are greater."

Facebook hasn't been covering itself in glory when it comes to its user privacy. The noise reached a critical mass last month when the company launched a product at a developers conference that automatically shared users' profile information with sites such as Pandora, Yelp and Microsoft's Docs.com, without asking them first.

The privacy hubbub was compounded when the company began requiring its users to join public groups relevant to their previously private interests mentioned on their profile page.

As if that wasn't enough, the privacy concerns came to a head when Facebook accidentally exposed some users to others' private chats for a few embarrassing hours last week.

Facebook executives have downplayed the public consternation, contending that the vocal outcry over privacy rights is the result of media sensationalism.

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