If you are a company that depends on your users’ information to make a good portion of your revenue like Facebook does for advertising you likely don’t want letters from politicians about your tactics. It’s like getting a letter from the Principal in school. You know you did something wrong but you are hoping it doesn’t go on your permanent record. Then the letter arrives at the house. Ouch.
Well, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg got one of those little notices. It came from U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), Co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus and it was dated February 2. The concerns come from the plan that Facebook launched in January then pulled off the table to be tweaked for re-release that gave developers access to mobile phone numbers and addresses of Facebook accounts. Representative Markey’s website tells some more.
“Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn’t become Phonebook,” said Rep. Markey. “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.”
“Facebook’s popularity has made it a leader in innovation and we hope they will also be a leader in privacy protection,” said Rep. Barton. “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.”
Some of the questions that Facebook is being asked to answer include:
Would any user information in addition to address and mobile phone number be shared with third party application developers under the feature as originally planned, and was any of this information shared prior to Facebook’s announcement that it would suspend implementation of the feature?
What user information will be shared with third party application developers once the feature is re-enabled?
What was Facebook’s process for developing and vetting the feature referenced above before the feature was suspended, and what was the process that led Facebook to decide to suspend the rollout of this feature? What is the process Facebook is currently employing to adjust the feature prior to re-enabling it?
What consideration was given to risks to children and teenagers posed by enabling third parties access to their home addresses and mobile phone numbers through Facebook when designing the new feature?
What are the opt-in and opt-opt option for this new feature?
Why is Facebook, after previously acknowledging in a letter to Reps. Markey and Barton that sharing a Facebook User ID could raise user concerns, subsequently considering sharing access to even more sensitive personal information such as home addresses and phone numbers to third parties?
It’s the last question in the previous quote that pretty much sums up how Zuckerberg and Facebook approach the world in most cases. You see, back October the company had told these same two representatives that sharing Facebook User ID’s with developers raised privacy concerns. Now, Facebook goes ahead and gets caught with its hand in the privacy cookie jar looking to give away even more sensitive information like mobile numbers and addresses. That’s either chutzpah or just plain disregard for concerns that had been voiced by these reps in the past. If you are Facebook does it make sense to ‘poke the bear’ and open this door again after ticking off the same two men you had issue with in just the past few months?
At any rate, it’s obvious that Facebook will push every envelope it can to get user data in the hands of people that can help Facebook make money. As a capitalist that makes sense. But Facebook’s apparent disregard for any convention of decency is going to come back to bite them in the end. Despite all the accolades and platitudes cast upon Zuckerberg as a visionary etc, etc there is no denying that he is also arrogant and feels to be above the law in many ways. In a word, there are times where he is just unlikeable. This culture and attitude has been created at Facebook as well so this will likely not be the last time the company gets called into the principal’s office.
If you would like to see a full copy of the letter you can do that here.