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