US senators demand Facebook privacy changes
Let users decide which websites their personal information is shared with, demand Democrats.
The senators have called on Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, to reverse recent changes to the site that will allow users' information to be shared more widely with third-party websites.
Preferred partners, such as Pandora, Yelp and the new Microsoft Docs service, would be given access to public information on Facebook profiles, such as names, friends lists, and the likes and interests of users.
Third-party websites will no longer be obliged to delete this data after 24 hours, and, crucially, Facebook users are opted in to the service automatically, and must actively opt out to avoid sharing their information with other people or companies.
Michael Bennet, the senator for Colorado, Mark Begich, who represents Alaska, Al Franken, the senator for Minnesota, and Charles Schumer, the senator for New York, made a joint statement in the Senate opposing the changes, and calling on the US Federal Trade Commission to lay down strict guidelines that would safeguard privacy on social networking sites.
"Now, users have less control over private information, and it was done without the users' permission," said Senator Schumer, referring to the changes that were announced last week at the F8 developer conference in San Francisco.
"The expansion of Facebook – both in the number of users and applications – raises new concerns for users who want to maintain control over their information.
"The way to go is opt-in. The default position should be that the information is not shared, not that the information is shared. The onus here should be on Facebook, not the user."
The senators also called on the Federal Trade Commission to streamline guidelines across all social networking sites to make it easier for users to understand and change default privacy settings when they sign up to a site.
But Facebook rebuffed the senators' concerns, saying that the changes offered enhanced personalisation while still allowing users to limit who their information is shared with.
"Facebook is designed to give people the tools to control their information online and our highest priority is to keep and build the trust of the more than 400 million people who use our service," said Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications at Facebook.
"These goals were central in the development of the new products we announced last week. Specifically, these new products and features are designed to enhance personalisation and promote social activity across the internet while continuing to give users unprecedented control over what information they share, when they want to share it, and with whom. All of Facebook's partner sites interact with a user's consent."