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Politicos press Facebook CEO over privacy flap

Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton, who targeted Apple and Google before, now want Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to answer some pointed privacy questions.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is, once again, being forced to fend off pointed privacy questions from Washington politicians.

In a letter sent this week to the 26-year-old executive, two prominent members of the U.S. House of Representatives demanded answers about the company's latest privacy breach, which allowed third party applications to gather personally identifiable information.

It's not clear, as CNET noted, that Facebook knew that some of these third-party companies, including extremely popular ones like FarmVille manufacturer Zynga, were allegedly selling data to advertisers and tracking companies in violation of Facebook's terms of use. That was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat

Reps. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, directed their queries at Zuckerberg. They posed 18 questions, including: What guidelines does Facebook have in place for third-party applications to protect its users from advertent or inadvertent privacy breaches? And: Please identify the officials within Facebook who are responsible or ensuring that third-party applications satisfy Facebook's terms and conditions.

The pair of politicians requested a response by October 27. Normally this would be followed up by a committee chairman's threat to haul Zuckerberg in front of a congressional committee to be roasted slowly in front of TV cameras, but the House has been adjourned since late September because of the upcoming elections.

For its part, Facebook said it would be happy to answer questions.

Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican

Company spokesman Andrew Noyes said: "We look forward to addressing any confusion that has resulted from The Wall Street Journal article and we're happy to work with Reps. Markey and Barton to answer any questions they may have. Facebook is committed to safeguarding private data while letting people enjoy meaningful social experiences with their friends...We are continually working with developers and other responsible parties in the community to put in place further safeguards against violations of our terms."

In May, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking about an earlier privacy flap.

But it's been the combination of Markey and Barton who have been the most prominent Capitol Hill critics of Internet companies. They've pressed Google over Street View, demanded answers from Apple after a privacy policy change, warned an Internet provider not to go ahead with its plans to serve up relevant ads, and taken aim at Web-monitoring firm NebuAd. Barton has been particularly pointed in his criticism of Google.

Markey and Barton tend to be far more focused on these topics than their colleagues. Neither is, on the other hand, in a position to convene a hearing directly. Markey is no longer head of the House Internet subcommittee; he gave that position up in January to take over a panel focused on the environment and global warming. (Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat facing a difficult re-election bid, is the current chairman of the Internet subcommittee.)