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.
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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