As the COVID-19 crisis means more of our lives are digitised, privacy is more important than ever. It is important that people are making informed choices about the information they choose to share online and have meaningful control over their data. We also need to make sure that privacy laws are effective and current for the digital age.
The principle of data portability is another way to ensure people have control and choice, whilst also promoting innovation in the digital ecosystem. Having a free and open internet means that people should be able to share their data with the apps or services they like most. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another.
At Facebook, we have been calling for a more active role for governments and regulators in setting the regulatory frameworks for the Internet. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harm. Two of the four areas our CEO Mark Zuckerberg has identified for new regulation are privacy and data portability.
It is timely to revisit these issues during this week, which is Privacy Awareness Week in Australia. Facebook is a long-standing and proud supporter of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner Privacy Awareness Week. This week is an opportunity to remind people of the tools we offer to help them manage their privacy, our calls for updated Australian privacy laws, and also some of the recent data portability tools that we have worked with the industry to release recently.
Privacy tools on Facebook
One of our constant imperatives is to build much stronger privacy protections for everyone on Facebook. There is always room for improvement, which is why this is such a priority for our teams. We’ve outlined below some of the work we’ve been doing to give users more control over their privacy – on and off Facebook.
Privacy Awareness Week is a helpful prompt for all of us to revisit our privacy settings. In January, Facebook released a number of new tools to help users check their privacy.
Firstly, we updated Privacy Checkup, a tool that we have made available since 2014. Privacy Checkup gives users a prompt to double-check their existing privacy settings and make sure they are still comfortable with them. In January, we updated Privacy Checkup to include:
- Who can see what you share
- How to keep your account secure
- How people can find you on Facebook
- Your data settings on Facebook
Secondly, we completed the global rollout of Off-Facebook Activity, which provides Facebook users with a new level of transparency and control. Through this tool, users will be able to see a summary of the apps and websites that send information about users to Facebook. Users are also able to clear or disconnect the information from their Facebook accounts.
Strengthening Australia’s Privacy Laws
As part of Facebook’s support for new regulatory frameworks for privacy and data portability, we welcomed the announcement by the Australian Government in December to commence a review of the Privacy Act. We hope the review can make sure the legislation empowers consumers, protects their data and best serves the Australian economy.
For some time, Facebook has been calling for Australia’s privacy laws to be strengthened, and consistent with international standards. As Melinda Claybaugh, our Global Director for Privacy Legislation and a former executive of the US Federal Trade Commission has said:
“Our position is simple — people should be confident that their information is protected across the economy, as well as the world, and have the right to access, delete, and move it however they see fit. At the same time, governments and companies should be able to reasonably use data to drive innovation and deliver consumer benefit, as long as they hold to strong internal accountability obligations.”
Our CEO and Chief Privacy Officer has been calling for global regulation, consistent with the international privacy standard of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As the OECD and others have stated, ensuring alignment with global norms enhances Australia’s global competitiveness. This type of regulatory harmonisation reduces unnecessary compliance costs and leads to increases in productivity.
We welcome Australia updating its privacy laws with international frameworks so that it is well-placed to compete in the global digital economy. Perhaps even more importantly, regulatory harmonisation gives Australian consumers comfort that their information will be consistently protected wherever it travels around the world.
For almost a decade, Facebook has enabled people to download their information from their accounts, and we recently improved our tools to make it easier to take that information to another service. But we’re confident we can offer people even more control through a new generation of data portability tools that protect privacy and support innovation. To do that, however, we and other online services need to demonstrate to people that they can trust their data will be protected as they move it among different services.
To build portability tools people can trust and use effectively, online services need clear rules about what kinds of data should be portable and who is responsible for protecting that data as it moves to different services. Although some laws, such as the GDPR, already guarantee the right to portability, we believe companies and people would benefit from additional guidance about what it means to put those rules into practice.
This is why we have published a white paper that poses five questions about data portability and privacy that we hope will help advance a global conversation about how to build privacy-protective data portability. These are complex questions and we hope to make a small contribution to the thought and research from privacy experts, think tanks, and regulators already working on data portability.
To provide tangible examples of how data portability can be enabled in practice, we have been participating in the open-source Data Transfer Project to work on a photo transfer tool. This tool will enable Facebook users to transfer their Facebook photos and videos directly to other services, starting with Google Photos. People can access this new tool in Facebook settings within Your Facebook Information, the same place where you can download your information. Privacy and security remain top priorities, so all data transferred will be encrypted and people will be asked to enter their passwords before a transfer is initiated.
We look forward to continuing to build tools that support people’s privacy and data portability and working with governments such as the Australian Government on effective and modernised privacy regulations.