A law suit unfolding in California has been described, and possibly kindly, as a “jumbled mess”, but the privacy action taken against social media behemoth Facebook isn’t just messy on account of its plaintiffs.

One of whom is suing the organisation for allowing their son to disclose that he had a touch of ‘flu.

It’s potentially messy thanks to discrepancies in national privacy laws.

It has emerged that Facebook’s privacy and security settings may not accommodate all local legislation.

Last month, Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner issued a damning report about the social media network Facebook.

Following the lead of a Commonwealth cousin with comparable federal privacy laws, the Australian Privacy Foundation, founded in 1987 to oppose the Australia Card, took time to super-poke the site and our own Commissioner.

According to the APF, the Canadian report suggested that, “Facebook may be violating Australian law.”

The local NGO recommended that time was ripe for Karen Curtis, the Australian Privacy Commissioner, to publish her views on the practises of a social network populated, at last count, by six million Australians.

She thought so, too. On the same day the APF issued its request, Curtis echoed the concerns of the Canadian report regarding Facebook’s nasty habit of retaining information on users even after account deactivation. She invoked National Privacy Principle 4.2 of our Privacy Act that requires organisations take reasonable steps to destroy or permanently de-identify personal information for which it no longer has any lawful use.

In short, Curtis indicated that her Office was not ignorant about the giant’s potential for data mining. “I look forward to seeing how Facebook responds to the issues raised by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner,” she said.

And Facebook did start tweaking for Canada following the report by that country’s Privacy Commissioner.

Details of the changes made to the site have not been explicitly described.

This, it seems, is a matter between new friends, Facebook and Canada. It seems likely, however, that the modifications may go a little way to satisfying our own national privacy legislation.

In the meantime, the Facebook nation, wherever it resides, continues to upload minutiae. A common view among users is that these details, no matter their market value, should be defended against scrutiny. What, after all, should we do if a potential future employer found out that you once had the ‘flu?

Well. We could take a little more care in enacting virtual fan dance of the future. Or, we could just sue.

Peter Fray

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