April 27th, 2010
02:58 PM ET
10 years ago

Senators urge Facebook CEO to change privacy settings

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked Tuesday by four senators to reconsider recent privacy setting changes on the popular social media website.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked Tuesday by four senators to reconsider recent privacy setting changes on the popular social media website.

Washington (CNN) – Four Democratic senators called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Tuesday to reconsider the recent changes in its privacy settings and asked the Federal Trade Commission to streamline guidelines regarding privacy on all social networks.

"Now users have less control over private information and it was done without the users' permission," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Schumer, Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska and Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Zuckerberg about Facebook's decision to allow third-party sharing of user's information.

"We are writing to express our concern regarding recent changes to the Facebook privacy policy and the use of personal data on third party websites," the senators wrote. "The expansion of Facebook – both in the number of users and applications – raises new concerns for users who want to maintain control over their information."

Last week, Facebook began a "small pilot program" with Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora and Yelp, which would offer personalized experiences when visiting those sites. "These partners have been given access to public information on Facebook-such as names, friend lists and interests and likes-to personalize your experience when you're logged into Facebook and visit their sites," Austin Haugen, a Facebook product manager wrote on the blog.

The senators specifically took issue with the changes, because the new settings currently require users to "opt-out" if they do not want to share any information.

"The way to go is opt-in," Schumer said at the news conference. "The default position should be that the information is not shared, not that the information is shared." Amplifying his colleagues concerns, Schumer called on Facebook to "reverse its policy so that users have to opt-in to shared data, rather than opt-out." The New York Democrat added, "The onus here should be on Facebook, not the user."

Franken emphasized the difficulty for users to opt-out under the current settings.

"I would read what you have to do to opt-out, but we really only have so much time," he said.

Bennet, who was a superintendent of the Denver Public Schools before being appointed to the Senate, expressed concerns about children not understanding the privacy issues.

"We want to make sure that when it comes to the very important question of privacy, that the users of these websites are in control of their most personal information," he said. "This is an evolutionary technology. There is a huge amount of benefit that comes from Facebook and companies like Facebook. But we have to be vigilant to protect the information that is in a sense personal."

Facebook defended its privacy policies in a letter sent to Schumer before the news conference.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of global communications, said the new changes allow for enhanced personalization and social activity while providing users with the ability to limit who is able to view their information.

"Facebook is designed to give people the tools to control their information online and our highest priority is to keep and build the trust of the more than 400 million people who use our service," Schrage wrote. "These goals were central in the development of the new products we announced last week. Specifically, these new products and features are designed to enhance personalization and promote social activity across the Internet while continuing to give users unprecedented control over what information they share, when they want to share it, and with whom. All of Facebook's partner sites interact with a user's consent."

Schumer also called on the FTC to streamline guidelines on all social networks to allow users to easily understand privacy settings when signing up for sites.

Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs, said Facebook's privacy policies are common among digital companies and websites.

"The onus is on the user to opt-out of data collection for every major site," said Corbett, whose firm consults for major brands on digital strategy. Corbett noted that Google collects search information and Amazon.com collects detailed analysis of what books and music their consumers are browsing to recommend other products.

"Most users probably don't understand how to opt-out, nor care," Corbett said. "They want an easy way to buy books on Amazon or connect with friends on Facebook. We have sacrificed privacy for conference."

CNN has a business relationship with Facebook that allows CNN.com users to recommend and share stories with their Facebook friends. This kind of arrangement is not what the senators expressed concern about.

–CNN's Evan Glass contributed to this report

Filed under: Congress • Facebook • Social Media • Social Networking
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Bob in PA

    Why anyone would entrust anything to FaceBook is beyond me.

    April 27, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  2. Four and the Door

    Why would anyone in their right mind listen to anything these senators have to say? They wouldn't and shouldn't. when politicians are no longer corrupt, tax evading and out of touch with reality, maybe someone will listen to them.

    April 27, 2010 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  3. AlexSD

    Now Democrats want to control Internet. I believe they took this idea from Obama. Government and its Democrats want to overtake the Internet. So, they think that it will be great to start with telling "Facebook" what to do. I say – Hands OFF "Facebook"!!! Democrats do not value Freedom of Speech, First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Supreme Court as well.

    April 27, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  4. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Don't trust this guy. They want to data-mine everyone's personal information and sell it all to marketing companies. Worse they already do it without even telling us.

    April 27, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    The best solution is not to use social network sites if you want to keep your private life private. There is no need to have a cyber footprint. This is the problem with the products we buy; we buy what we want and not what we need.
    America is great at sales/marketing we sell drowning people water, but when it comes to buying for ourselves we are clueless. Or like my youngest child says to me everyday, now dad is that the truth or one of your salesman lies.

    April 27, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  6. conniesz

    There should be an opt out of everything option and then specific opt ins if you choose to go that way. This is one reason I have nothing to do with Facebook or anything else that does not protect my personal information. I don't want targeted advertising – I go out of my way to not buy things I see in annoying ads.

    April 27, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  7. typo

    "We have sacrificed privacy for conference." You mean for "convenience?"

    April 27, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  8. Jana

    I agree with my Senator, Schumer. I don't appreciate Facebook's new settings, and I don't want to see my face on CNN next to articles I have recently read.

    I turned the settings off, or so I thought, but it is still doing it if I was recently logged into facebook.

    The default settings should be for PRIVACY – let others who want to share be free to do so, but don't make it so overly complicated that an average 12 year old (who Facebook lets on the site) can't figure it out.

    April 27, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  9. Lynn

    I may be closing my FB account. Recently my mailbox has been full of spam, a new problem I suspect is caused by their enhanced privacy policies.

    April 27, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  10. Lucy, Austin, Tx

    When all this social networks started, they were for free. Now that they have your information they are selling their users information to the highest bidder. I believe the term is "data mining" and it is a multi billion dollar business. Corporations spend millions on targeting you to buy their product, however, just like the bail-outs, American spend trillions on the cleaning up the messes the Corporations leave. Just like the Enron's Valdez oil spill, American will end up paying the cost of the the latest British Petroleum's disaster and cleaning up after all the broken disposed electronics that poison our earth, the air. and water we depend on. America needs to learn to be wary of free...at no cost to you. The cost is crippling. Only a few benefit from this practice, and it won't ever be the consumer.

    April 27, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  11. Waste of time

    With 10% unemployment, a health care bill that the CBO said will COST MORE than touted, and a mess of a country, the Schumer wastes time on fees on carry on luggage and what Facebook does. In both cases people have a choice...don't carry-on a bag and don't use facebook. This is our goverment...

    April 27, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  12. Matt

    How about some Jobs? Nothing to see here. Just another liberal distraction from the fact that no one has a job.

    April 27, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. Marie MD

    I hope this is the end of facebook. It's right up there with twitter as the narcisism of Americans continues to grow.
    No facebook for our family. We have friends and we keep in touch with e-mail, the phone and going out with them.
    We don't need facebook to follow anyone or have anyone follow what we do how, when and why!

    April 27, 2010 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |