MONTREAL - What happens on Facebook is expected to impact other social networking sites when it comes to respecting their users' privacy.
Canada's privacy commissioner is set to announce Thursday how the globally popular Facebook will comply with privacy concerns.
Other social networking sites should look at the Facebook case to see what needs to be done to improve their own privacy practices, said Tamir Israel of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.
"This sets a standard," Israel said Wednesday.
"Facebook was pretty high profile, so I think it would be enough to get their attention and get them to comply," he said from Ottawa.
The criticism of Facebook's privacy practices made headlines around the world last month.
Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has said Facebook breaches Canada's privacy law by keeping a user's personal information indefinitely - even after some members close their accounts.
She also raised concerns about the sharing of users' information with the almost one million third-party software developers in scores of countries who create applications like games, quizzes and horoscopes for Facebook.
"It's not an easy fix, I think," said Israel, of how Facebook will comply with Stoddart's concerns about third-party apps.
Stoddart's office has been meeting with Facebook to see if changes meet her demands. If she isn't satisfied, she can take Facebook to Federal Court.
Facebook said Wednesday it will respond after the privacy commissioner's news conference on Thursday in Ottawa.
Any changes that Facebook makes are expected to be implemented beyond Canada, said Israel, staff lawyer with the clinic at the University of Ottawa's law faculty.
"I think they are going to be Facebook wide. That's what we've seen in the past," he said.
Facebook has almost 12 million Canadian users and 250 million worldwide, allowing family and friends to keep in touch by update their pages with fresh postings and photos.
Israel said his clinic will be "keeping an eye" on other social networking sites.
"If social networking sites aren't improving their practices to meet these standards I think we will be getting involved."
That means sites like MySpace, networking tool Linkedin, Classmates.com and microblogging site Twitter could be under the clinic's eye or decide to revisit their own practices.
Israel said the problem with sites like Facebook indefinitely keeping users' information is data breaches, which also can be unintentional, and result in the information ending up with advertisers or being published on the web.
"The longer the information is kept the more likely it is that it would be leaked. You can only protect it so much - it's the Internet."
Professor Tim Richardson said Facebook wants to keep users' information for its targeted ads, designed to appeal to different users' interests.
"They save things we might think are benign like the number of clicks on a page, what image has certain clicks, what the name of a file was," he said.
When that information is put together with other information, Facebook is able to find consumer trends, said Richardson, who teaches e-commerce at the University of Toronto.
While it should be a wake up call for social networking sites, Richardson said consumers don't always understand they should use judgment about what they say on the Internet.
"We live in a celebrity generation where people want to be more famous than cautious," he said from Toronto.
But he said it's an opportunity for social networking sites to use better privacy policies as a opportunity to bring more people to their site and get more business.
Lawsuits have recently been filed in the United States against Facebook, alleging it's violating privacy laws.
Website TechCrunch said that not all lawsuits against Facebook are serious. It said in a recent post that a new lawsuit complains about privacy when the plaintiffs appear to have engaged in the usual activities of sharing photos and writing status updates.
"It's sort of like jumping into a pool and them complaining that you're wet," the website said.
On Thursday, Facebook is also expected to say how it will comply with pages after someone has died and what it will do with email addresses of users' friends who aren't members of the social network.
Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian investment firm, recently put Facebook's value at US$6.5 billion to US$10 billion.
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