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4/27/2010
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Senators Seek FTC Rules For Social Networking

Facebook's expanded information sharing has prompted a call for regulation.

Four Senate Democrats have asked the Federal Trade Commission to develop guidelines governing the way social networking sites can use information submitted by users.

A letter sent to the FTC on Sunday by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and also signed Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo), and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) expresses concern about the sharing of information on social networking sites and the adequacy of the disclosure to users.

"I am asking the FTC to use the authority given to it to examine practices in the disclosure of private information from social networking sites and to ensure users have the ability to prohibit the sharing of personal information," said Schumer in a statement. "If the FTC feels it does not have the authority to do so under current regulations I will support them in obtaining the tools and authority to do just that."

The letter comes after Facebook last week announced major changes to the Facebook Platform and introduced a collection of APIs, plugins, and semantic markup mechanisms that promises to make Web sites deploying the technology more social and less private.

While Facebook provides users with a way to opt-out of its revised information sharing system, Schumer argues that the privacy controls on social sites are confusing and their willingness to make user information available to third-party sites puts users at risk of spam and scams.

An example of such confusion can be seen in the way Facebook allows the sharing of personal information even after the user has opted out of the new instant personalization feature. While a user may believe he or she has disabled the sharing of information by opting out, the user's friends may reveal information about the user through their own use of third-party apps that participate in the new Facebook system.

Facebook explains that to prevent friends from sharing one's information with partner applications like Microsoft Docs, Pandora, and Yelp, those applications must be disabled.

As if to hammer home the potential privacy problems, Google engineer Ka-Ping Yee on Monday found that Facebook's new Graph API exposed events that some users have said they'd attend. To demonstrate the problem, he posted a series of events attended by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook has since fixed the hole, but a number of Google engineers have publicly deactivated their Facebook accounts as a sort of vote of no confidence.

Google has faced similar privacy problems with its Buzz social networking service.

Several years ago, Facebook confronted these same issues with its Beacon tracking system.

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