Facebook has once again stirred up privacy concerns, this time in the political arena.
Several politicians joined forces April 27 to urge Facebook to change its privacy approach to block third parties from accessing personal information with the users' consent. Sens. Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Al Franken and Mark Begich announced at a news conference that they had sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to revisit its recently announced plan to make user information accessible on third-party sites via plug-ins.
Specifically, the senators requested that Facebook keep user information private by default and make sure it can only be shared with third parties if the user opts in. However, Facebook contends that the tools it introduced do not endanger user privacy.
In a blog post, Facebook Product Manager Austin Haugen explained the "social plug-ins" the site introduced were designed so that the third-party sites do not actually receive any information; instead, the plug-ins should be considered an extension of Facebook.
"You only see a personalized experience with your friends if you are logged into your Facebook account," Haugen wrote. "If you are not already logged in, you will be prompted to log in to Facebook before you can use a plug-in on another site. At a technical level, social plug-ins work when external Websites put an iframe from Facebook.com on their site-as if they were agreeing to give Facebook some real estate on their Website. If you are logged into Facebook, the Facebook iframe can recognize you and show personalized content within the plug-in as if the visitor were on Facebook.com directly."
The plug-ins follow the same privacy settings as those that already exist on Facebook, he continued.
"For example, you can control how information is shared on Facebook.com on your Privacy Settings page under 'Posts by Me,' and you can change which connections are visible on your profile under 'Things I Like.' ... Remember that, even if you change your settings for what is shared or shown on Facebook, likes and recommendations made on other sites become publicly available information, similar to a public comment on a Website," Haugen wrote.
Schumer wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission April 26 urging the agency to create guidelines governing how social networks such as Facebook and Twitter can share information with other sites.
"Sites like Facebook have revolutionized the way we stay connected and they provide a great new way to communicate," Schumer said in a statement April 27. "But as these sites become more and more popular, it's vital that users stay in control of their personal information so they don't receive unwanted solicitations. The default policy should be one of privacy, and users should have to choose to share their information, not the other way around."
This isn't the first time Facebook critics have turned to the FTC. In December, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and several other organizations joined together to file a FTC complaint protesting changes to privacy settings.
"It should not be a full-time job to adjust your privacy settings every time Facebook thinks of a new way to share your information," Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told eWEEK. "While this is the type of situation that the FTC has the authority to regulate if it finds Facebook's practices unfair or deceptive, the better solution would be for Facebook to immediately take action to rectify the situation and give real promises that give users the confidence it won't be repeated."