Posted April 26, 2010 7:02 am by with 4 comments

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Last week we brought to your attention the fact that Facebook was starting to spend some time in Washington, DC talking to folks in the intelligence community as well as the FTC. Well, now after US Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer’s action we can understand why Facebook would like to develop some friendships in high places.

The local ABC New York City affiliate ran this piece on the senator’s request. It’s interesting to see how the people who pay attention to local news are being “informed” about the online world especially when it comes to something they can get paranoid about like privacy. Schumer and most politicians want to play on the public’s fears so they can look like they are busy. What better place to make the public squirm than the idea that their private information is being spread across the Internet with no concern for wants and desires for that data. While it may not even be completely true it sure makes for good TV.

As with most actions of this type it is likely that the senator’s staff brought this to his attention and told him that it was a “hot” topic and he should get some press. While he is there for the “good of the people” he is there for publicity so those people will keep him in office. In other words, I wonder just how concerned this senator truly is or is he just trying to get out in front of this and give the appearance of being on top of the “latest and greatest’ concerns of his constituency. Don’t you love how the system works?

Anyway, Facebook obviously feels that if a US senator is going to call a press conference to announce his request for the FTC to examine Facebook’s privacy policies then they should have a say of their own. Here is Facebook’s response to the ABC report.

“We were surprised by Senator Schumer’s comments and look forward to sitting down with him and his staff to clarify. Facebook’s highest priority is to keep and build the trust of the more than 400 million people who visit our service every month. To do so, we’ve developed the most powerful tools of any major Internet company to give people control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom. Last week, we announced several new products and features designed to enhance personalization and promote social activity across the Web. None of these changes removed or reduced people’s control over their information and several offered even greater controls. For example, we announced a new tool to give users much greater ability to restrict the information they share with applications and third party websites. We introduced new ways for websites to let Facebook offer personalization without the need for any user information to be shared with the site itself. We also announced a small pilot program with three well-known and respected partners – Microsoft, Pandora and Yelp – to provide additional personalization on their sites, based on information that is already publicly available. These partners were carefully chosen, reviewed, and are contractually required to respect users’ privacy preferences. Additionally, they are required to provide an easy and prominent method for users to opt out directly from their website and delete user data if users choose do opt out. Facebook and its partner sites have also added new and easy controls to help users manage their experiences when they visit these sites. We think these programs will make surfing the web a smoother and more engaging experience for people who use Facebook while honoring the trust we’ve been given.”

Facebook wants to be the first to truly tie the social web together in a more cohesive fashion but it appears that this goal will not reached without clearing a few hurdles that are likely to be set Washington.

What’s your take on Washington’s interest in Facebook?

  • If FaceBook and Google ever merge, we may well see a data monopoly that has to be examined. At some point, I want some degree of abstraction between who I am, and the results I want to see in search.

    The power of search is, that occasionally, you are searching for an answer…and you find a much better solution by accident. Over-personalization of search will lead to a lack of growth in knowledge, not an expansion of it.

  • The Facebook response is BS. In it, Andrew Noyes says, “None of these changes removed or reduced people’s control over their information and several offered even greater controls.”

    First, the December changes took care of that, so this is misdirection at best. Second, the changes last week most definitely did remove choices: Third, carefully-chosen words don’t negate the fact that defaults matter and Facebook has made it very difficult to understand and scale back the new sharing:

    Facebook has a clear history of using its monopoly over the social graph to abuse the trust of its users by forcing ever-more-public defaults, making controls hard to find and complex, and by removing choice by forcing more personal information fields to be always public.

  • I just cant believe it has taken this long for the FCC to step in, Facebook is been doing to many sneaky privacy changes for too long, without consequences

  • its just a matter of time before the FTC starts looking at Facebook – they are growing at such a fast rate