Senators Unhappy With New Facebook Info-Sharing Policy

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Harry Hamberg/AP Photo

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., at a news conference on Capitol Hill. The three shared their concerns with Facebook's new information policy.

Three Democratic senators want Facebook to rethink its decision to share user information with third-party websites without allowing its users to "opt-in."

Three Democratic senators held a press conference on Capitol Hill today about Facebook's new information policy. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) do not want Facebook sharing user information with third party websites without their express consent. 

The Senators are asking Facebook to revisit its policy and allow users to 'opt-in' rather than 'opt-out' of data sharing.

"The onus here should be on Facebook, not on the user," said Schumer. He sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to reverse the policy.

Facebook vice president Elliot Schrage responded with a letter saying that the new tools were meant to enhance user control not limit it. "We welcome a continued dialogue with you and others because we agree that scrutiny over the handling of personal data is needed as Internet users seek a more social and interactive experience."

"What Facebook has done is made a decision in mid-stream ," said Franken. "And folks who've put information out that they may not want shared with the entire world are put in the position where they have to opt-out. Now I would read what you have to do to opt-out, but we really only have so much time."

The Facebook privacy policy states that the site will only share user information with "pre-approved" third party websites, not the "entire world:"

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook).   Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website).   In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy. 

If this seems like legalese, here's a simple way of looking at it:

  • You log onto Facebook, update your status, and stay logged in while you check washingtonpost.com

  • Right there, on the top right hand side of the Washington Post website is a box that has the Facebook icon and says "Network News."

  • In that box are YOUR facebook friends who shared links or 'liked' Washington Post articles, complete with their profile pictures.

  • So, basically, washingtonpost.com has access to your Facebook information and your friend's Facebook information. 

Try it.

Facebook also aggragates user information based on personal interests, something that Schumer called a "public gold-mine of data" for advertisers and spammers. 

"I'm sure that if Facebook takes a second look at how this impacts users, they'll put a premium on privacy," added the New York Senator.

Besides sending a letter to Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to revisit the new privacy policy, the three senators want the Federal Trade Commission to get involved.  They're asking the FTC to set disclosure rules for all social media sites whether or not Facebook goes along with their 'opt-in' idea.

What do you think?

Would you rather Facebook ask permission before it shares your personal information with third party websites or is the opt-out option sufficient?

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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