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Facebook set to change privacy policy and unify data with Instagram

Facebook is set to follow in Google's footsteps by combining user data with that of its recently acquired photo-sharing app Instagram.

The social network announced today it may share information with other businesses or affiliates that Facebook owns to "help provide, understand, and improve our services and their own services".

The move means Facebook unifies profiles, including information from its social network website and Instragram, which the company acquired in October for $715 million (£449 million).

However, a similar approach used by Google came under fire last month by EU regulators who deemed its privacy practices "incomplete and approximate," and raised "deep concerns about data protection and the respect of the European law".

Google system involved pooling of information collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and the Google+ social network, without giving users the choice to opt out.

A group of 36 US state attorney generals wrote a letter warning Google that consolidating so much personal information in one place could put people at greater risk from hackers and identity thieves.

Facebook is also set to remove the ability for users to vote on changes to its data privacy policy. Under the site's rules, user votes only have an effect if 30 per cent of the user base has taken part, which considering the site recently announced its billionth user, would require 300 million votes.

"We found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality," Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, said in a blog post on Wednesday.

In April, Facebook settled privacy charges with the US Federal Trade Commission after it was found to have deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.

Users of the service can comment on on the proposed changes and if the site generates more than 7,000 public comments, Facebook's current terms of service automatically trigger a vote by users to approve the changes.