Facebook Faces Privacy Questions From Congressmen

Two Congressmen have sent a letter to Facebook requesting information about plans to share users' mobile phone and address information with developers.

Two U.S. Congressmen are seeking answers from Facebook about the company's plans to allow third-party developers to access users' mobile phone numbers and address information.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Congressmen Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) requested information regarding the company's plans to allow developers to access a user's mobile phone number and address provided the user gives the thumbs up to the developer's application. Facebook originally proposed the idea in January, but agreed to back off temporarily after concerns were raised that rogue developers could abuse this situation.

"Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn't become Phonebook," Markey said in a statement. "That's why I am requesting responses to these questions to better understand Facebook's practices regarding possible access to users' personal information by third parties. This is sensitive data and needs to be protected."

When it reversed its decision last month, Facebook said it would make changes to ensure users only share information when they intend to do so. At the time, the company argued that the idea behind the feature was to make applications more efficient. For example, it could have permitted users to share their address and mobile phone number with a shopping site to streamline the checkout process, Douglas Purdy, director of developer relations for Facebook, blogged at the time.

"As an innovative company that is responsive to its users, we believe there is tremendous value in giving people the freedom and control to take information they put on Facebook with them to other Websites," Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes said. "We enable people to share this information only after they explicitly authorize individual applications to access it."

The company will share the changes to the feature soon, he said.

"Facebook's popularity has made it a leader in innovation, and we hope they will also be a leader in privacy protection," Barton said in a statement. "The computer-especially with sites like Facebook-is now a virtual front door to your house allowing people access to your personal information. You deserve to look through the peep hole and decide who you are letting in."