Key lawmakers press Facebook on privacy concerns about user phone numbers and addresses


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Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), major congressional players on privacy issues, wrote to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday expressing concerns about the social networking site’s plans to share user addresses and phone numbers with developers and websites.

‘Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn’t become Phonebook,’ said Markey, who co-chairs the Congressional Privacy Caucus along with Barton and two senators. ‘This is sensitive data and needs to be protected.’


The letter highlights the increased scrutiny Facebook is getting on Capitol Hill as lawmakers consider whether to update online privacy laws. Markey said he plans to introduce legislation that will include a requirement for a do-not-track mechanism so the online behavior and personal information of children won’t be tracked.

Barton and Markey wrote to Zuckerberg last fall with detailed questions about reported privacy breaches. They received a 13-page response from Marne Levine, the company’s Washington-based vice president for global public policy, saying their main concern, the sharing of Facebook user IDs, was not a breach of privacy.

In their latest letter, Barton and Markey asked Zuckerberg 11 questions about a plan quietly unveiled last month by Facebook -- then quickly put on hold a couple of days later -- to let third-party developers of applications and websites to request a user’s address and mobile phone number. In delaying the launch, Facebook said it hoped to improve the feature and make it available in a few weeks.

Barton and Markey said they were worried about the privacy implications of the feature and the decisions involved in pulling it back after negative feedback from some users and security experts. Among their detailed questions:

If Facebook re-enables this feature, will users who initially opt in to sharing their home addresses and mobile phone numbers be able to have this information subsequently deleted by any third party application developer or website that holds it in the event the user no longer wishes to make this information available?

Barton said he hoped Facebook would be a leader in privacy protection as it has been in innovation.


‘The computer -- especially with sites like Facebook -- is now a virtual front door to your house allowing people access to your personal information,’ he said. ‘You deserve to look through the peep hole and decide who you are letting in.”

[Updated at 10:50 a.m.: Facebook said it allows users to share information only ‘after they explicitly authorize individual applications to access it.’ The company designs its user permission system in collaboration with privacy experts, but ‘following the rollout of this new feature, we heard some feedback and agree that there may be additional improvements we could make,’ Facebook said in a statement. ‘Great people at the company are working on that and we look forward to sharing their progress soon.’]


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-- Jim Puzzanghera