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Sens. press Facebook on giving data to advertisers


Update: at 10:50 a.m. with response by Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage
Update: at 11:27 a.m. with letter from senators

By Cecilia Kang
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) sent a letter Tuesday to Facebook, urging the social networking giant to change the way it gives user data to third-party advertisers.

Last week, changes at Facebook made data from its users available to third parties unless a user opted out, the lawmakers said. That means, they said, the default for most users is for private information to be available to advertisers and other third parties.

"Social networking sites are a Wild West of the Internet; users need ability to control private information and fully understand how it's being used," the lawmakers wrote in a news release. They will hold a news conference at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday and release a letter they will send to Facebook asking for changes to the site's privacy policies.

In their letter (pdf) to Facebook chief exectuive Mark Zuckerberg, the lawmakers outlined three major areas of concern:

1) Users' profile information -- such as the city where they live, hometown, education and interests -- became more widely available through a program called "connections." Through that application, a user has to make that information available in order to participate.

2) A users' information can be stored with a third-party advertiser indefinitely. Previously, a third-party partner was required to delete that information within 24 hours.

3) New partnerships with companies like The Washington Post and CNN allow Facebook users to connect with other users on those sites. But the lawmakers said that "instant personalization" feature allowed access to friends lists and the publically available information about those friends.

"As a result of the other changes noted above, this class of information now includes significant and personal data points that should be kept private unless the user chooses to share them," the lawmakers wrote.

Facebook has 400 million users who actively engage in sharing pictures, media stories, videos and data about their professional and personal lives. They are able to set their Web pages so that they can customize levels of privacy for any of their "friends" online.

The lawmakers said recent changes to Facebook's distribution of data to advertisers "fundamentally alter the relationship between the user and social networking site."

Facebook responded with a letter to Schumer, saying that they agree that scrutiny is needed over the handling of personal data.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications and public policy, wrote that the changes last week were meant to allow more interactivity between users of the site and other sites on the Web. For example, Facebook created a pilot program to allow users to personalize their activity on Yelp, Microsoft and Pandora.

"These new products and features are designed to enhance personalization and promote social activity across the Internet while continuing to give users unprecedented control over what informaiton they share . . . All of Facebook's partner sites interact with a user's consent," Schrage wrote.

Check out Rob Pegoraro's take on those changes and how readers responded to The Washington Post's partnership with Facebook.

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By Cecilia Kang  |  April 27, 2010; 7:25 AM ET
Categories:  Consumers , FTC , Facebook , Privacy  | Tags: Al Franken, Bob Bennett, Charles Schumer, Facebook, Microsoft, Pandora Radio, Privacy, Social network service, World Wide Web, Yelp  
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Next: Q&A: Microsoft's chief strategist on China, cyber attacks, immigration


Is it too much to ask people, if they don't want to share personal information, to not use Facebook (or other "social networks"). There are alternatives to feeling you have to post public websites. You can, for example, e-mail people; you can create a restricted website accessible only by password; you can telephone people; and you can write letters. You don't have to be part of a system that "shares" information freely.

Posted by: Dungarees | April 27, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Really? The US Senate has reduced itself to essentially trying to manage one particular website? Time well spent.
Don't like Facebook? Don't use it. Don't want to share personal information? Don't put it out there.
This is akin to posting your name, SSN, and DOB on a billboard and then asking your city to do something about the invasion of your privacy.
I do use Facebook, but in a limited, controlled manner. It's fine for what it is a - a no cost (to me) service supported by advertising. The second it no longer benefits me or I grow to dislike it, I'm out. And I don't out more up there than I wish others, including strangers, to know.

Posted by: gth1 | April 27, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

If FB would've made the default "opt out" and let folks decide to "opt in", this could've been a smoother transition.

Google made the same mistake a few months ago.

Posted by: Vapor87 | April 27, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

quoting Noyes in the article -
""None of these changes removed or reduced people's control over their information and several offered even greater controls," Noyes wrote."

That is simply NOT TRUE. The changes were opt-out, rather than opt-in. Big difference! Many found their profile picture on other sites before the changes were known, went to their privacy settings at Facebook and found they had been "opted in" to this invasion of privacy.

It's very disappointing that the WaPo, CNN etc agreed to this as in opt-out feature.

Posted by: DESS1 | April 27, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Re: GTH1
My complaint (and, perhaps, the Senators) is that Facebook and the Washington Post decided to start broadcasting some of my web activity to all users of the website without asking me first. This is NOT about what I put on my Facebook page; I know my friends can see it and I am careful. This is about my Washington Post activities being broadcast with my real name.

It's called "Opt-In." The tone-deaf Mr. Narisetti should ask Rob Pegoraro if he needs that term defined.

Posted by: wp04272010 | April 27, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

DESS1, I agree. It was sneaky, unethical and, I hope, illegal for Facebook to change the default to opt-in. The worn out line "if you don't like it don't use it" has no bearing here. Facebook broke it's initial promise to protect users' privacy. If people knew their private information would be sold to advertisers I dont' think there would be 400,000 users. Thank you, Senators, and I hope you are successful in your efforts.

Posted by: njglea | April 27, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm seriously considering closing my Facebook account. Everytime I set the privacy settings to what I am comfortable with, Facebook creates a new opening for the rest of the world to view my pages WITHOUT MY CONSENT. This is not what I signed up for and I could really do without this hassle.

Posted by: PepperDr | April 27, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Somewhere I read of a move to create open common social networking standards so we would not be locked in to any one service. I wonder what is happening with that?

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | April 27, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Anyone stupid enough to provide personal information on-line really deserves what the get.

Posted by: wmw4 | April 27, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

We need some clarity in laws that provide the "rules of the road" regarding privacy, and a citizenry involved and knowledgeable about it. Congressional members asking a particular organization to do something re privacy shows the whole untenability of the current situation. But clarity will come over time as the power struggles get resolved.

Posted by: steveandjanereed1 | April 27, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

We don't need 'clarity'. 'Clarity' and 'unclear' are just lame terms that mean you don't know. The laws are clear-- web servers are private property of their owners, and any data you enter, including pictures etc., becomes their property. The real clarity comes when you read the privacy policies upon signing up, and updates to privacy policies.

I get no junk mail, spam, telemarketing at my home. I get no weird applications or strange sharing on Facebook. This is because I read the privacy policies, check all opt-out boxes, and if there isn't one, I use a comment box to request non-sharing. You only have to do it once with each business you encounter, at the beginning. (And don't forget, Facebook is a business.) It's easy. It could be easier, but the fact is, it's their servers and their data.

Posted by: jakemd1 | April 27, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The first time I saw my photo from FB on CNN's site, I calmly went to my FB page, deleted everything, and canceled the account. It wasn't illegal, but it was definitely a sleazy, underhanded move on FB's part.

Posted by: rhoadie1 | April 27, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Re: "You only have to do it once with each business you encounter, at the beginning."

I wish that was true. The point of this whole issue for me is that WashPost/Facebook created new rules and automatically set me to "share" despite the fact that all of my other settings are set to "not share."

Posted by: wp04272010 | April 27, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

And, of course, you provide a link at the bottom of the article, so readers can further expose their preferences and movements to the world of Facebook!

Anyway, I deactivated my Facebook account. Wasn't impressed with its new feature to "share" what I'm doing (or my friends) on the Internet, and I know a handful of people who have suffered professionally from what they have posted Facebook.

Enough of this social networking mirage!

Posted by: zen99 | April 27, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I hate facebook.

Posted by: martymar123 | April 27, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

So Congress hasn't yet found the time to extend unemployment benefits which have been suspended for one month now...but they do have time to discuss Facebook during Congressional debate?

The men and women in Congress are heroes...ever wonder why kids don't want to be President anymore?

They'd rather keep their honor and not have to lie constantly to get through the day.

Posted by: TheFreeMan | April 27, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I'll be glad when this gdamned social networking fad is SO over.

What Facebook et al fail to grasp is that the more 'features" and "interactivity" they add to their products in order to keep them 'fresh'(and the money rolling in) the closer they get to a point at which the factor of complication of their products zeroes out whatever happiness these people get from sharing the minutiae of their daily lives with others.

I have no opinion on how close they are to that point because I don't use their products and would gain no happiness from blowing open the PRIVACY OF MY OWN HEAD FOR "FRIENDS" I'VE NEVER MET.

It's a truly weird phenemenon.

Posted by: lquarton | April 27, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Unlike Facebook, social network builder: SocialGO will never sell your info or your members' info to advertisers. You own your network entirely, control the membership, and can move your network to another service at any time.

Plus, also unlike Facebook, SocialGO has been designed for people to monetize their network through sales, ad revenues, member subscriptions, and even donations. It's a one-stop-shop for people who want to build and own their social network and monetize it AND it's easy to use. Check it out...

Posted by: CarlaG | April 28, 2010 2:07 AM | Report abuse

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