Facebook privacy policy becomes an issue in political attack ad

In what could be the first televised political attack to center on Facebook and online privacy, California attorney general candidate Kamala Harris is accusing Chris Kelly, one of her opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination, of “designing the Facebook privacy policy condemned across the country.”

“Chris Kelly released your private information,” the ad’s voice-over says, with solemn music in the background. The ad debuted in the Los Angeles television market Thursday.

Harris, San Francisco’s district attorney, has sought to link Kelly, formerly Facebook Inc.'s chief privacy officer, to the recent uproar the social network has faced after it changed its system to make users’ information more widely available to businesses and other Internet users.

The Kelly campaign called the attacks “patently false.”

“The accusations that they make have no basis in truth,” said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Kelly’s campaign. “Chris was on leave from the company since August 2009.”

On Thursday, Kelly criticized Facebook’s privacy stance. In an e-mail to the liberal advocacy organization, Kelly said he was troubled by Facebook’s plans to share certain user information with third-party businesses “without clear consent.”

At issue is Facebook’s “instant personalization” feature, which allows a short list of Facebook partner sites to gain access to certain information about users. That information includes the identity of users’ friends on Facebook, as well as any person or entity they may have declared a preference for — or “liked” — on the site. When Facebook launched this feature in late April, it automatically enrolled most users, rather than allowing users to sign up themselves.

The primary election takes place Tuesday.