Canadian privacy commissioner on Facebook's friends list

Even as Canada's Privacy Commissioner is about to investigate a complaint about Facebook's alleged breach of Canadian privacy law, Ontario's Privacy Commissioner's office is collaborating with the social networking site on a privacy education program.

While Canada's Privacy Commissioner is about to investigate whether Facebook is breaching Canada's privacy laws, Ontario's Privacy Commissioner's office is working with the social networking site on a privacy protection initiative.

A complaint lodged with Canada's Privacy Commissioner accuses Facebook of violating Canada's privacy laws and the trust of its users by making personal information posted by the latter widely available.

Specifically, Facebook was accused of breaching Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in the complaint submitted by advocacy group, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

But privacy protection is precisely the issue on which Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner Office is working hand-in-hand with the social networking site.

They've already published educational pamphlets that seek to inform youth about protecting their privacy on Facebook.

A new video will be launched at a September 4 conference titled "Youth Privacy Online: Take Control -- Make it your choice" in Toronto.

It will be featured on the Ontario Privacy Commission Web site as well as on Facebook.

"We thought it would be useful to produce a video featuring the commissioner and the chief privacy officer at Facebook," says Ken Anderson, assistant director for privacy with the Ontario office.

"It explains the privacy settings rather well and we hope it will be helpful."

The conference will bring together Internet privacy experts with online companies and educators from across the province, Anderson adds. It could prod administrators to distribute the video more directly to schools.

"That would really be the most cost-effective, because it would be priming the pump to get it out more widely in Ontario."

The alliance, essentially, has led to a rather unusual situation.

Two privacy commissioner offices within Canada are interacting with Facebook on the issue of privacy in vastly different ways.

The federal office will be investigating the site's alleged breach of privacy law, and the provincial office collaborating with it on privacy education program.

And that may actually be a good thing after all, one observer suggests.

"They're each trying to figure out their own ways of protecting the privacy of Canadians with different means," says Michael O'Connor Clarke, vice-president of public relations firm Thornley Fallis Communications.

Anderson echoes this view.

The Privacy Commissioner's office works with many groups in an attempt to solve privacy problems pre-emptively, Anderson says.

The office may be working with a group and receiving complaints that are investigated at the same time -- using a combination of education and law to keep information safe.

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