Former privacy watchdog urges Facebook users to tighten privacy settings now

If Facebook users don't want to delete their accounts, they should strengthen their privacy settings immediately, says a former privacy commissioner of Ontario.

Ann Cavoukian offers advice amid investigations into Cambridge Analytica scandal

Ann Cavoukian, former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, says users can file an official complaint with the federal privacy watchdog if they believe their personal information may have been made available to third parties without their consent. (CBC News)

If Facebook users don't want to delete their accounts, they should strengthen their privacy settings immediately, says a former privacy commissioner of Ontario.

That way, they would at least be trying to prevent third parties from accessing their personal data.

Ann Cavoukian, who currently doesn't have a Facebook account, says users can also file an official complaint with the federal privacy watchdog if they believe their personal information may have been made available to third parties without their consent. 

"You really want to tighten the controls around who has access to your data," Cavoukian told Metro Morning on Monday.

'Privacy is all about control'

"I know a lot of people rely on this and they enjoy sharing it. What I would tell people to do is, go in right now, and restrict access to who has access to your data so truly, at least theoretically truly, it will only go into the hands of people you choose to share it with," she said.

"Remember, privacy is all about control, personal control over who gets access to your information." 
Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook's logo. Some 87 million Facebook users may have had their personal information shared with the data firm Cambridge Analytica without their permission. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Canada's Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has launched an investigation into Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Some 87 million Facebook users may have had their personal information shared with the British data firm without their permission. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify before U.S. congressional committees starting on Tuesday over the scandal.

Cavoukian, who had an account briefly but shut it down because she felt it was getting out of hand, said Facebook failed to honour agreements it reached with Canada's privacy commissioner in 2009 and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2011.

Failed to honour agreements

In 2009, it agreed to add "significant new privacy safeguards" to protect the privacy of Canadian users. In 2011, according to an FTC ruling, Facebook agreed to take steps "to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future," including that it would obtain consent from users before information is shared. 

The company has not followed either agreement, Cavoukian said. 
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify before U.S. congressional committees starting on Tuesday over the scandal. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

That means Facebook has not been upfront with users from the beginning about what it does with personal data, she explained.

Although it presents itself as a social media company, it has acted like an advertising company, allowing third parties to have access to information of its users in order to advertise to them, she said.

'That's not the deal when you join Facebook'

On the weekend, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an NBC interview that if users wanted to opt out of all advertising driven by data on the social networking site, they would be required to pay for using it. 

Cavoukian said the comments made her laugh.

"What a joke...if that had been explicit and people consented to that and that was their understanding, fine. But that's not the deal when you join Facebook," she said.

"There's nothing about, you are going to get advertising whether you like it or not and we are going to go through all of your information and tailor it. It's the lack of transparency and there's no integrity associated with what they've been doing." 
On the weekend, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an NBC interview that if users wanted to opt out of all advertising driven by data on the social networking site, they would be required to pay for using it. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

In response to the scandal, Facebook has restricted some forms of access and it has said it will take steps in May to comply with a new EU law, General Data Protection Regulation. But Cavoukian said she is still skeptical.

"You have to find a way to believe all of this in terms of how thorough a job they are doing because Facebook's ability to track users across the web continues to grow and that's the concern.

Cavoukian, who served three terms as privacy commissioner, said the company is going to "face the heat" for some time to come. 

"This is just the beginning. We are going to have many eyes on this."

With files from Metro Morning