Franken takes on Facebook privacy issues

Facebook’s new policy allows third-party companies to access users’ information more easily.

by James Nord

U.S. Sen. Al Franken is no âÄúfriendâÄù of Facebook. The Minnesota Democrat joined three other senators Tuesday to condemn a recent policy change by the California-based company allowing third-party companies easier access to usersâÄô information. The company began a trial program last week that would allow the personalization of websites, including Yelp, MicrosoftâÄôs and Pandora, ultimately giving the sites access to public information in a userâÄôs profile. This information would include names, friend lists, interests and âÄúlikes,âÄù according to a company blog written by Austin Haugen, a Facebook product manager. âÄúThese partners were carefully chosen, reviewed and are contractually required to respect peopleâÄôs privacy preferences,âÄù Haugen wrote. But this news troubled Franken, who said it is wrong for the social media website to change its policy âÄúmidstream.âÄù He said the new policy, which requires users to âÄúopt-outâÄù of the service rather than choose to allow it, is confusing and could cause people to share sensitive information. The details Franken is concerned about are more serious than usersâÄô lists of âÄúlikesâÄù and interests. He fears for the dissemination of sexual orientation and religious and political views that people typically only want their friends to access. âÄúThis is about peopleâÄôs personal information,âÄù Franken said in a conference call Tuesday. He said the website is betraying usersâÄô trust. Bullying against users is also a major concern. But University of Minnesota students were less concerned. âÄúYou have control over how much information you put on your Facebook account,âÄù nursing sophomore Maggie Kriz said. âÄúIt almost seems like a false paranoia.âÄù Franken said he is more concerned for adolescents and those who may not realize their information is public. âÄúIâÄôm talking about 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kids,âÄù Franken said. University biostatistics graduate fellow Harrison Quick agreed that children are more vulnerable. âÄúYounger kids probably donâÄôt think too much about what they do in general, so itâÄôs probably safer that way,âÄù he said. But he also said given the choice between paying to use Facebook and having his information shared, he would choose the latter. FacebookâÄôs effort to put its stamp on more websites is a goal that could yield more moneymaking opportunities for the privately held company. Franken said legislation is possible depending on FacebookâÄôs response to requests to reconsider the policy. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter Sunday to the Federal Trade Commission calling for regulators to draw up clearer privacy guidelines for Facebook and other Internet social networks to follow. Schumer joined Franken in opposing FacebookâÄôs policy change. The four senators, including Michael Bennet, D-Colo,, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also object to FacebookâÄôs decision to allow other businesses to store usersâÄô data for more than 24 hours. In a written response to Schumer, Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage said Tuesday that the company welcomes âÄúa continued dialogue with you and others because we agree that scrutiny over the handling of personal data is needed as Internet users seek a more social and interactive experience.âÄù He echoed earlier statements that Facebook aims to give its more than 400 million users more control, not less. Franken said returning to previous privacy policies would fulfill that aim. Either way, students wonâÄôt be deterred. âÄúItâÄôs kind of creepy, but IâÄôm not going to stop using Facebook because of it,âÄù Quick said. âÄúAny information IâÄôm putting out there, IâÄôm putting out there as public anyway.âÄù âÄîThe Associated Press contributed to this report.