Facebook Resumes Plan to Disclose User Personal Contact Information

March 17, 2011 |

According to EPIC Facebook has indicated in a letter that it will go forward with a proposal to provide users’ addresses and mobile phone numbers to third-party application developers, including anyone who writes games or applications that use the Facebook platform. The developers would be able to ask users for their contact information, and the user would have to give permission by clicking the “allow” button before they accessed the application.

Facebook’s comments came in response to a February 2011 letter from Rep. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Barton (R-TX) to Mark Zuckerberg questioning Facebook’s plan. In that letter, the Representatives wrote that the pop-up window permissions in place were not sufficient “given the sensitivity of personal addresses and mobile phone numbers compared to other information users provide Facebook.” EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg explained, “Facebook is trying to blur the line between public and private information. And the request for permission does not make clear to the user why the information is needed or how it will be used.”

Despite temporarily suspending the plan following intense objection from EPIC and consumers, Facebook is now intending to go forward, although it is considering ways to “enhance user controls.” Reps. Markey and Barton are not satisfied with Facebook’s response, and are particularly concerned about the effect that Facebook’s new policy might have on minors. “I don’t believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teen’s contact information if they enable this new feature,” Markey said. Senators Al Franken (D-Minn), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) also urged Facebook not to allow third-party applications and websites to access users’ addresses and mobile phone numbers.  The Senators warned that release of this sensitive information could make users “easy targets for fraud, theft, and abuse.”

Congressmen Markey and Barton have previously written to Facebook, responding to news that the social media giant’s business partners transmitted personal user data to advertising and Internet tracking companies, in direct violation of Facebook’s policies. EPIC, joined by many consumer and privacy organizations, has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission charging that Facebook’s earlier changes to users’ privacy settings constitute unfair and deceptive trade practices.

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