Senators Write to Facebook’s Zuckerberg To Reconsider Privacy Changes

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If you’ve been thinking that Facebook plans to allow third party applications access to your address and phone number sound a little worrying, you’re not alone; four Democratic senators have written to Mark Zuckerberg to express their concern and ask him to reconsider.

Facebook first announced in January that third party apps would be given access to users’ contact information, only to almost immediately postpone the idea in wake of public outcry. But postponing isn’t the same as canceling outright, and that’s where the senators come in.

The letter, sent on March 9th and co-signed by Richard Blumenthal, Al Franken, Charles Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse, urges Zuckerberg to “block this feature for users who are 17 or younger, and to structure your permissions process to inform users of the risks of releasing their mobile phone and home address information and to allow users to access information without acceding to the applications’ requests for this information.” Releasing this information opens users up to all manner of identity theft risks, they go on to say:

Anyone with ten minutes, $25, and a Facebook user’s phone number and address and no other information can obtain a breathtaking amount of information about that Facebook user – and that Facebook user’s family, friends, neighbors, and landlord. Combined with a targeted Google search, these two pieces of information can allow someone to obtain almost all of the information necessary to complete a loan or credit card application. It is hard to contemplate all of the different ways in which this information could be abused.

The senators ask that Facebook reverses its decision to allow contact information access to third party developers, or at least blocks access to users aged between 13 and 17.

In response, Facebook released the following statement:

We appreciate all of the feedback we’re getting on this issue and that feedback will inform the decisions we make as we continue to develop the feature. We believe there is great value in letting people choose to share information about themselves on Facebook, just as they are voluntarily registering this information on sites across the web, and offline in ways as simple as a return address sticker. Despite rumors, apps and external websites cannot access a user’s address or phone number from Facebook without that user’s permission. People are always in control of what information they share through our service.

The problem being, of course, whether users actually know whether or not they’ve granted permission for their information to be accessed; the original upset wasn’t that access was going to be allowed without permission, but that many users might not have realized that they’re agreeing to it when they sign up for an app. Maybe it’s time for a follow-up letter to clarify things.

More on Techland:

Uh Oh: More Privacy Changes Come To Facebook

TechFast: Facebook Backtracks, Sprint Adds $10 For Data, Roku’s A la Carte Cable

Twitter, Wikileaks and the Broken Market for Consumer Privacy