Feb 28, 2011: Markey, Barton Respond to Facebook

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), Co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, today released the letter they received from Facebook in response to their February 2, 2011 letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s plan to enable users to make their addresses and mobile phone numbers available to third-party websites and applications on the Facebook platform. Last month, Facebook announced it would temporarily suspend and then soon re-launch a feature to enable its users to share more of their personal information, potentially including their addresses and mobile phone numbers, with websites and third-party applications.  The letter sent by Reps. Markey and Barton sought detailed information about Facebook’s plan for this new functionality, including whether the company considered the potential impact on children and teenagers who may opt to share their personal addresses and mobile phone numbers with third parties without fully understanding the ramifications.
“Mobile phone numbers and personal addresses, particularly those that can identify teenagers using Facebook, require special protection,” said Rep. Markey. “We must ensure that this sensitive information is safeguarded, with clear, distinct permissions so that users know precisely what’s in store when they opt to share this data with third parties. Moreover, simple, easily accessible tools are needed so users can rescind these permissions if they subsequently find they no longer want their information in the hands of third parties.
“While permission slips give parents piece of mind, Internet permission ‘slip-ups’ can expose children and teens to dangers online. That's why it's critical that Facebook get this right.
“I’m pleased that Facebook’s response indicated that it’s looking to enhance its process for highlighting for users when they are being asked for permission to share their contact information. I look forward to monitoring the company's work in this area. I’m also encouraged that Facebook is deciding whether to allow applications on the site to request contact information from minors. I don’t believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teen’s contact information if they enable this new feature. Facebook has indicated that the feature is still a work in progress, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that sensitive personal user data, especially those belonging to children and teenagers, are protected.”

“Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook, and it is important that the company works as hard at protecting their user's privacy as they do providing a popular social interaction platform,” said Rep. Barton. “People enjoy the games and applications that Facebook offers, but taking advantage of them shouldn't jeopardize a user's privacy. Facebook has a responsibility to their customers not just the third party vendors it associates with. I hope they continue to improve protection of users' private information.”
This latest correspondence comes after Reps. Markey and Barton previously wrote to Facebook about a media report that companies operating on the Facebook were accessing users’ Facebook IDs without their knowledge or consent.  Reps. Markey and Barton received a response from Facebook in fall 2010 in response to their inquiry.
Rep. Markey, a senior member and former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee, is the House author of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Markey plans to introduce legislation early this year that will include a 'Do Not Track' requirement so that kids do not have their online behavior tracked or their personal information collected or profiled.
A full copy of the Facebook response letter can be found HERE.