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Last month, Facebook told developers they’d be able to get users’ current address and mobile-phone numbers. Even though the feature would have required getting explicit permission from users, apparently it didn’t go over too well in some parts. Three days later, Facebook put the feature on hold while it works on a better procedure to make it explicit to users when exactly they’re granting access to their most direct contact information.
But now two members of Congress want to know more about these plans-the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Congressional Privacy Caucus sent Mark Zuckerberg a letter asking for a lot more detail about his plans for user phone numbers and addresses.
The co-chairs, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), have 11 different questions they’ve posed to Zuckerberg. Once this new sharing feature is re-enabled, they want to know exactly what will be shared-and they want to know a lot more about how Facebook came up with this idea in the first place.
Among other things, Barton and Markey would like Facebook to explain how it decided to suspend the rollout of this feature in the first place. And if users opt in once, will they be able to have that information deleted if they later decide that sharing was a bad idea?
There’s also an undertone of annoyance that Facebook would go ahead and roll out such a feature given that the company acknowledged last year that sharing Facebook User IDs with app developers did raise privacy issues. The company told the same two Congressmen in October that it was “in the process of making a technical change to address the issue.” If Facebook saw the light and realized that User IDs were sensitive info, how could it think that users’ home addresses and mobile phone numbers-“even more sensitive information” than a User ID-should be easily accessed by developers?
Facebook has until Feb. 23 to answer the letter. Given the tone of the letter-and the fact that online privacy is quickly becoming a topic of interest among both parties on Capitol Hill-this is one feature that Facebook might be putting on ice for awhile.