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Facebook Addresses Growing Concern of its Privacy Policies

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November 08, 2010

Facebook Addresses Growing Concern of its Privacy Policies

By Tammy Wolf, TMCnet Web Editor

In response to increasing scrutiny of its privacy policies, Facebook (News - Alert) is taking steps to ensure that users’ private information isn’t shared with marketers – including putting a hold on several of its applications.

Lawmakers have been on Facebook’s tail following a Wall Street Journal report that exposed Facebook had been sending users’ ID numbers to marketers, which would allow application developers to build profiles of Internet users by looking up a user’s name and other publicly available information posted on the social networking site, or following their Web-browsing activities.

The Wall Street Journal’s report was a major red flag for lawmakers, as U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Joe Barton (R., Texas) addressed the issue with Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg (News - Alert), asking for Facebook to share its oversight of its 550,000 applications.

"Facebook needs to protect personal consumer information to ensure that getting connected doesn't mean being unwittingly friended by data brokers and marketers,” Rep. Markey said in his statement to the social networking site.

In addition, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) last week requested top executives of Facebook and MySpace (News - Alert) – which was also found to be sharing user IDs with marketing companies – reveal the steps being taken to safeguard consumer privacy.

In its response Friday, Facebook addressed the announcement that a data broker had paid application developers for access to user data, and presented the steps Facebook took against the data broker and application developers. And Marne Levine, Facebook’s vice president for global public policy, made sure to outline the procedure and measures in which Facebook is taking to protect consumers’ privacy rights.

However, Facebook said it doesn’t consider the sharing of user information to be a privacy breach and that this action is inevitable, “inadvertent” and a “by-product of how Internet browsers work,” said Levine.

Within the fine print of its privacy policy, Facebook does state that the site can’t guarantee application developers will follow its rules, advising users to check all apps’ privacy policies. However, Rep. Barton wasn’t satisfied with Facebook’s response.

"Millions of people put their information into the hands of Facebook and services like it because they believe what they're told about walls protecting their privacy," he said in a statement. "I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can't unless the people's right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done."

Even so, Facebook is addressing those developers in violation of the rules and are working to prevent private information from being leaked to outside application companies.


Tammy Wolf is a TMCnet copy editor. Previously she was assistant to the editor at The Darien Times, a weekly newspaper in Darien, Conn., where she edited submissions, did page layout and design and helped manage the newspaper's website. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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