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Lawmakers ruffling Facebook feathers again

The social-media site's decision to allow users to share phone numbers and addresses with third-party developers has drawn the scrutiny of two congressmen.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are putting the pressure on Facebook to say more about its plans to share more user information with third parties: On Thursday, U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) published a joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in which they request "information about Facebook's recently announced, and subsequently postponed plan to make its users' addresses and mobile phone numbers available to third-party Web sites and application developers."

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

Facebook announced last month on its developer blog that it would be delaying but eventually continuing with plans to let users share their addresses and cell phone numbers after the initial announcement of the feature led to some criticism. The company insists it's a positive development.

"With this change, you could, for example, easily share your address and mobile phone with a shopping site to streamline the checkout process, or sign up for up-to-the-minute alerts on special deals directly to your mobile phone," the post by Facebook's Douglas Purdy explained, in a clear hint to the social network's plans to make moves in the e-commerce world. "As with the other information you share through our permissions process, you need to explicitly choose to share this data before any application or Web site can access it, and you can not share your friends' address or mobile number with applications."

But Markey and Barton say they want more answers, including on why Facebook chose to suspend the rollout in the first place, whether third parties will be forced to delete the address and phone number data of users who share it and then decide to stop, and whether it considered the possible risks to children and teenagers who will have access to this new option on Facebook.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) U.S. government

"As an innovative company that is responsive to its users, we believe there is tremendous value in giving people the freedom and control to take information they put on Facebook with them to other Web sites," read a statement from Facebook in response to the letter. "We enable people to share this information only after they explicitly authorize individual applications to access it. This system of user permissions was designed in collaboration with a number of privacy experts. Following the rollout of this new feature, we heard some feedback and agree that there may be additional improvements we could make. Great people at the company are working on that and we look forward to sharing their progress soon."

Facebook's privacy policies have riled D.C. lawmakers several times over the past few years, like last year when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) petitioned to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate how Facebook handles user data.