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Congress Questions Facebook Over Privacy

Fox News

October 19, 2010

Following revelations of privacy concerns, Congress has drafted a letter to Facebook requesting more details regarding the way applications on the social networking site handle user information.  Congress expressed alarm over the discovery that third-party applications associated with Facebook gathered and marketed personal identification numbers to Internet tracking companies.  ID numbers allow companies to view the person’s name and any information they have made public.

Facebook claims it has a policy in place and will look to clear up any confusion and cited a browser defect that has led to the concerns.

Scott Vernick was quoted regarding the risk and severity of the breach.  Vernick explained there is always a risk when placing information on the web.  He reminded that use of the web is a “two-part conversation” in which you have the protection offered by the web operator versus your personal accountability and/or responsibility to know what you are putting out there.  Vernick said we must keep in mind what we have placed on the web with what the provider tells us will be kept private.

Although Vernick felt Congress’ concern was justifiable, he pointed out the Facebook policy does inform users the ID number will be part of the information the application operator sees when the user downloads or accesses an application. He also explained the policy advises application developers they are prohibited from transferring or marketing this data.  Vernick felt the privacy breach was not intentional but the result of a browser design flaw.  He asked what the harm was if the ID is made accessible, noting the ID number divulges to others merely the person’s name and information they made public anyway.

The letter from Congress requests Facebook provide how many users had been affected by the breach, when Facebook was made aware of it and what changes Facebook plans to implement to deal with the problem, among other questions. Facebook must respond by Oct. 27.

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