Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Washington Goes to Mr. Zuckerberg

Given this timeline of "Facebook's Eroding Privacy Policy," it is not surprising to see Senators Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Mark Begich, and Al Franken writing to the social network's site CEO, Mark Zuckerberg that their could be legislative consequences for the company's shifting attitudes about user agreements with customers. According to a Reuters story, "Senators tell Facebook: tighten privacy policy," new corporate guidelines "would allow personal information to be viewed by more than friends, and options on other websites that would allow third parties to save information about Facebook users and friends."

Senator Schumer's website prominently featured his objections, which he explains lead him to pursuing the matter with the Federal Trade Commission as well:

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to provide guidelines for social networking sites, like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter on how private information submitted by online users can be used and disseminated. Schumer’s call to the FTC comes on the heels of recent reports that Facebook has decided to provide user data to select third party websites and has begun sharing personal profile information that users previously had the ability to restrict access to. These recent changes by Facebook fundamentally change the relationship between the user and the social networking site. Previously, users had the ability to determine what information they chose to share and what information they wanted to keep private. Recent policy changes are fundamentally changing that relationship and there is little guidance on what social networking sites can and cannot do and what disclosures are necessary to consumers.

Under new policies, users must go through a complicated and confusing opt-out process to keep private information from being shared with third party websites. Additionally, Facebook has also created a new system whereby ‘interests’ listed by users on their personal profiles are automatically aggregated and shared as massive web pages. Users used to have the ability to keep this information private if they chose. These new common interest pages are a gold mine of marketing data that could use by used for spam and potentially scammers, intent on peddling their wares.

“Hundreds of millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter every day,” said Schumer. “These sites have helped reconnect old friends, allow families from far away to stay in touch, and created new friendships; overall they provide a great new way to communicate. As these sites become more and more popular, however, it’s vitally important that safeguards are in place that provide users with control over their personal information to ensure they don’t receive unwanted solicitations. At the same time, social networking sites need to provide easy to understand disclosures to users on how information they submit is being shared.”

Franken's website also highlights the issue. In contrast Begich and Bennet gives little of the virtual real estate on their websites to the dispute.

You can read the actual letter to Zuckerberg here. The letter notes that the company's stated goal at one time was to create "open and transparent communities." Although they are taking up the matter with the FTC, they encourage the company to take "swift and productive" action beforehand. Note also the number of times that the word "concern" appears in the document.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home