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Apr. 27 2010 - 1:49 pm | 188 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

What do Facebookers think of the Senate getting involved in site’s privacy issues?

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 21:  Facebook founder an...

Mark Zuckerberg gets a letter from the Senate

Today, four U.S. Senators sent Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg a letter on official U.S. Senate stationery about the site’s off-and-on relationship with privacy. Cecilia Kang sums it up at the Washington Post.

Essentially, celebrity senators Chuck Schumer and Al Franken (and two other guys whose names are less recognizable — Michael Benet and Mark Begich) want Facebook to be diligent about “protect[ing] the personal biographical data of its users and provid[ing] them with full control over their personal information.” They say they look forward to the FTC’s investigation of Facebook (prompted by a complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center).

On Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer posted a note to his Facebook page about his feelings toward Facebook: “DECISION BY FACEBOOK TO SHARE USERS’ PRIVATE INFORMATION WITH THIRD-PARTY WEBSITES RAISES PRIVACY CONCERNS.”

All in caps! He must feel strongly. His followers feel strongly too, but not all agree that the Senate should be stepping in on this…

Here’s what was said in Schumer’s note:

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer is urging 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. 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.

“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.”

And here was the reaction:

Not everyone wants the protection the Senators are seeking. Bob’s comments regarding “the risk of unintended consequences from well-meaning but non-optimal privacy regulation” are particularly interesting given that the Senators themselves don’t seem to be very active Facebookers. Schumer’s page appears to be managed by someone on his press team. During a press conference today, Schumer admitted to not knowing much about the site:

Schumer said he learned about the new [privacy] rules from his daughter, who is in law school. The senator said he’s noticed no difference on his own Facebook page, which, he assured reporters, “is very boring.”

“I can attest to that,” deadpanned Franken, who made his living as a comedian before entering the Senate.

Al Franken can be smug. He’s got ten times as many fans as Schumer on Facebook.

It’s good to see the Senate thinking about these issues, but given how quickly privacy evolves on the Internet, it’s hard to imagine the slow-moving Hill keeping up with speedy Silicon Alley.


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  1. collapse expand

    As with baseball, college football, and a number of other subjects that have eaten congressional attention in the recent past, I think the actual understanding of facebook is a bit beyond the grasp of most of the Senators. The disconnect between users like Laura, who appears to believe that everything done by facebook is transparent and intuitively obvious to adopters, and Bob, who seems to recognize that the understanding of experts in the field and utter novices will be pretty big, suggests that we might be better off with some sort of streamlined educational initiative than with a heavy handed stab at regulation first.

    That said, I’ve been using facebook for 7 or 8 years and most of it is intuitive enough to me that I’m not concerned. Even so, every time they change privacy features, it seems like content previously marked for small groups of friends goes back into public view. Maybe the Senate is doing the right thing.

  2. collapse expand

    While the privacy settings become more and more diluted, I think the stranger think is to just look at society in general. Society used to be voyeur, and now we have become exhibitionists. Why is that when something happens to you that is different from your day to day life you feel an impulse to go update your status? It is just weird to me that so many people are ok with that. I have a facebook myself, but I don’t understand why. Just something to think about I guess.

  3. collapse expand

    The key is Facebook started with one set of privacy standards and continues changing them much like the credit card companies changed rules in the last 10 years. You sign up for one contract in which the fine print is continually changed. Pretty soon the contract and rights to the account/data are no longer recognizable.

    I’m replacing my account with an alias account now.

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