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Facebook Comments on Congressional Privacy Inquiry

  |  February 4, 2011   |  Comments

Legislators grill Facebook on its commitment to privacy for the second time in four months.



The co-chairs of the U.S. House Privacy Caucus have taken tough stances against Facebook on privacy issues before, and now they've fixed the interrogation light on the company again. This time, only around three months since Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton grilled Facebook regarding an alleged privacy breach associated with user IDs, they've sent another letter to the company's CEO Mark Zuckerberg inquiring about plans to allow third parties to access users' mobile phone numbers and addresses.

"Please explain, why Facebook, while previously acknowledging in its letter to us that sharing a [User ID] could raise user concerns, subsequently considered sharing of a user's home address and mobile phone number - even more sensitive personal information than a UID - to be information that should be more easily accessible to third parties."

In January, Facebook announced on its Developer Blog that it had decided to allow app providers to access users' addresses and mobile numbers to "for example, easily share your address and mobile phone with a shopping site to streamline the checkout process, or sign up for up-to-the-minute alerts on special deals directly to your mobile phone." Following an outcry from users, Facebook just days later said it would put the plans on hold temporarily in order to update the system "to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so."

In a statement sent to ClickZ News, a Facebook spokesperson said it developed the feature with user privacy in mind.

"As an innovative company that is responsive to its users, we believe there is tremendous value in giving people the freedom and control to take information they put on Facebook with them to other websites. We enable people to share this information only after they explicitly authorize individual applications to access it. This system of user permissions was designed in collaboration with a number of privacy experts. Following the rollout of this new feature, we heard some feedback and agree that there may be additional improvements we could make. Great people at the company are working on that and we look forward to sharing their progress soon."

Of particular interest to Markey (pictured) is the potential impact on children and teens. In December the Massachusetts lawmaker said he planned to propose legislation featuring a do-not-track requirement specifically to protect children's privacy.

"Before its decision to enable the new feature, did Facebook consider the risks to children and teenagers posed by enabling third parties to access their home addresses and mobile phone numbers through Facebook?" asks the letter, dated February 2. "What role did these considerations play in the decision about whether to proceed with the feature's rollout?"

The missive implied that announcing the new feature via a blog post on the Facebook's developer blog was insufficient notification to consumers.

When Facebook responded to the last Barton and Markey inquiry, the legislators reacted sternly. "Facebook needs to protect personal consumer information to ensure that getting connected doesn't mean being unwittingly friended by data brokers and marketers," stated Markey. "No one likes being friends with someone who invades their privacy."

Facebook was also asked to detail what types of information would be shared with third party app firms when the feature is revived, and whether "any user information in addition to address and mobile phone number would have been shared" with app firms had the plan been set in motion.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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