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For Users Outside The U.S., Facebook Is Getting A Little More Private

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Facebook is no stranger to accusations about how it treats users’ privacy — something that has come under increased public scrutiny in the last several months. Today we have the latest chapter in that story: those who are on the social network outside the U.S. — more than 500 million people, by one estimate — will soon see a series of changes aimed at helping them control their presence on the site a little better.

The news comes on the heels of a landmark settlement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., in which Facebook has agreed to a series of changes and modifications to improve how it handles privacy for its users in North America.

The changes announced today for international Facebookers are the result of a three-month investigation by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland, where Facebook’s international operation is headquartered, looking at how Facebook complies with Irish data protection laws and, by extension, European data protection laws.

Facebook’s Dublin office oversees accounts for all of Facebook’s users outside of the U.S. and Canada; these international users account for more than half of the 800 million people using the social network.

In what the data protection commissioner described as a “challenging engagement” for both sides — the most detailed investigation ever undertaken by the data protection office, in fact — Facebook has agreed to a series of changes to how it presents data and services to its users. It will start to implement those changes from now and will have a formal review of how it has complied in July 2012.

Many have cited Facebook’s rapid growth, both in terms of users and services, as part of the reason for why the company has perhaps not been as mindful of privacy as it could have been. Reading through the summary of the Irish report, that seems to have been at least partly used as a reason for why some of these privacy missteps went ahead in the first place. The report refers to a “Darwinian” nature for different services on the site — except that in this case we can see that the hand of god (or, as the case may be, a regulator) can sometimes come into play to direct just how Facebook evolves.

Here’s a rundown of the basic areas where Facebook will be making changes in the months ahead. If you want a closer look, head over to Tech Crunch, where longtime Facebook blogger Josh Constine has had a close read:
— An improved way to show users how their information is used in third-party apps;
— An update to the privacy and data use policies to make information easier for users to see and understand;
— Better everyday transparency and control for users;
— The ability to delete information in plug-ins and other interactions on the site;
— Better ability to control how user information is used in advertising;
— More notification on facial recognition technology and its use on the site;
— More control for tagging and posting on others’ profiles;
— More Groups control;
— Ability to make sure that these controls are in place for any future services and changes to the site.