Facebook plans to resume address, phone sharing

In response to congressional critics, Facebook says it is planning to resume roll-out of voluntary feature with changes to "enhance user control" over data sharing.

Despite congressional criticism, Facebook is planning to resume the aborted rollout of a feature that allowed the optional sharing of addresses and mobile phone numbers.

Facebook said in a letter (PDF) released today that it is evaluating different ways to "enhance user control" over information sharing that would go into effect "once the feature is re-enabled."

The social-networking site encountered some criticism in January after announcing the feature, which allowed applications to request permission to access user information. Only if the user clicked "Allow" was information shared.

Only three days after announcing the platform update, Facebook voluntarily delayed it, with Douglas Purdy writing that "we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so."

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), who have a history of assailing tech companies including Apple and Google over perceived data transfer snafus, suggested in a letter (PDF) on February 2 that the pop-up permissions window was insufficient "given the sensitivity of personal addresses and mobile phone numbers compared to other information users provide Facebook."

Facebook's response, prepared by Marne Levine, vice president for global public policy, stressed that applications that run on the Facebook platform have long had the ability to ask for information. For example, Levine wrote, "a photo-printing application that prints photos for a user requests permission specifically to access a user's photo; a social-gaming application that allows users to play a game with his or her friends requests permission to access the user' friends list."

In last month's announcement that dealt with contact information, Levine wrote, "we allowed applications to ask users for that information, through a permissions screen...that provided clear and conspicuous notice to the user regarding what information the application is seeking."

And in response to the politicians' point about minors, Levine said that anyone under 13 is prohibited from using Facebook, and the company is "actively considering" whether to allow applications to request information from even older minors.

Markey said in a statement today that he's not satisfied with Facebook's response.

"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. "Facebook has indicated that the feature is still a work in progress, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that sensitive personal user data, especially those belonging to children and teenagers, are protected."

Separately, Facebook announced last week that it's asking for comments on a proposed revamp of its privacy policy that's meant to make it easier to understand.

 

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