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Facebook careful about privacy guidelines at FTC

Facebook officials said Wednesday that they would support Internet privacy guidelines created by the Federal Trade Commission that companies would participate in voluntarily, so as not to impede technological advancements on the Web.

In a news conference by phone, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Vice President of Communications Elliot Schrage said staff for the company also met with aides for Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) Wednesday to address concerns raised about new features that made user data more broadly available to the general public and to third-party advertisers.

The news conference was scheduled before Tuesday, when the lawmakers pressed the FTC to come up with new privacy rules and complained to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about recent features.

Amid growing concerns over practices of social networking Web sites, an FTC spokeswoman told The Post on Tuesday that it is developing a framework that social networks and other Internet sites will use to guide how they collect data, use the information and share it.

Facebook executives were careful to support new guidelines on privacy.

"We absolutely believe that there is tremendous possibility in developing a framework and voluntary structure that guides what the industry does," Schrage said. "We are in an environment where innovation is constant and we think its a bad idea to have a framework that retards innovation. So we are delighted to talk to people in Washington and elsewhere for the right balance."

Privacy advocates, however, have pushed for stronger FTC guidelines that would force online social networks, search engines and e-commerce firms to abide by clear rules for how they handle customer data and explain how that data will be used by advertisers. Currently, advertisers are collecting reams of information on users to tailor specific profiles on Internet users (I'm reminded of this every time I get a weight-loss ad for women over 30 on my Facebook page).

Indeed, the executives acknowledged there will continue to be a tension between their site -- the world's largest social network -- and safeguarding user privacy online. They said that the company plans to continue to roll out new features to allow its 400 million users can share information about themselves and other information on the Web. And they have responded to new features by providing options for how widely or narrowly users choose to share information.

"Facebook is about sharing information and that is to some degree antithetical to secrecy, antithetical to privacy," Schrage said. "We feel we bridge that by giving users more control."

Earlier in the day, staff in Washington met with aides for Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss a letter the lawmaker sent along with Michael Bennet (Colo.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Al Franken (Minn.) to discuss a letter they sent on Tuesday to Zuckerberg. In their letter, they complained that Facebook made user data available to third parties unless a user opted out. That means, they said, the default for most users is for private information to be available to advertisers and other third parties. And a change in policy made user information available to third-party advertisers indefinitely. Previously, such information would be held with a partner business for only 24 hours. Schrage said the company and Senate staffers agreed to continue meeting to address their concerns.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 28, 2010; 4:48 PM ET
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Next: Microsoft warns against net neutrality going too far


Left unmentioned in this article is that Canada and the EU already have much stronger consumer data privacy protection laws than the corporate-controlled US Congress could ever pass.

Facebook has already added some privacy features due to legal pressure from Canadian privacy regulators. And, quite frankly, if Facebook makes any additional privacy improvements, it will be thanks to mounting enforcement action under EU and Canada privacy laws (which Facebook is ever-so-slowly realizing it MUST comply with if it is to do business globally).

Posted by: 12008N1 | April 29, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

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