Congressmen Edward Markey and Joe Barton unfriend Facebook

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

Is Congress unfriending Mark Zuckerberg?

The top-ranking Republican and Democrat in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have written a letter to the Facebook founder requesting information on the extensive release of private information reported in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

“Given the number of current users, the rate at which that number grows worldwide, and the age range of Facebook users, combined with the amount and the nature of information these users place in Facebook’s trust, this series of breaches of consumer privacy is cause for concern,” committee chair Edward Markey and ranking member Joe Barton wrote.

The Journal reported that certain Facebook Apps, such as the popular game FarmVille, have been “sending Facebook ID numbers to at least 25 advertising and data firms, several of which build profiles of Internet users by tracking their online activities.” The article explains that this is a problem because “anyone can use an ID number to look up a person’s name, using a standard Web browser, even if that person has set all of his or her Facebook information to be private. For other users, the Facebook ID reveals information they have set to share with “everyone,” including age, residence, occupation and photos.”

Barton and Markey submitted a list of 18 questions to Zuckerberg regarding the number of people affected, the nature of the information released, when Facebook found out about the problem, as well as Facebook’s agreements with the parties who released the information and its privacy policy.

Questions, such as “Will Facebook seek the deletion of its users’ personal information from data bases of the internet or advertising companies who received it as a result of this series of privacy breaches? If yes, when? If not, why not?” could elicit problematic answers. Facebook has been attacked for its lax privacy settings in the past, especially for constantly changing settings, and often automatically resetting them to the least strict possible. Zuckerberg’s “personal philosophy” is, as quoted in a recent New Yorker profile, “I’m trying to make the world a more open place.”

Others are concerned with the extent of the damage done by the information breach. The demographics are of specific concern. Markey and Barton ask: “To what extent has Facebook determined that data relating to minors age 17 years of age and under were breached?”

They also ask the extent to which “personal financial or medical data were breached.”

The deadline for Zuckerberg to respond is Oct. 27.