New York senator challenges Facebook on privacy

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FTC to design privacy rules for social networking sites, including clear guidelines on how information submitted to Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter is used and disseminated.

“Hundreds of millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter every day,” Schumer told ABC News. “These sites have helped reconnect old friends, allow families from far away to stay in touch, and created new friendships; overall they provide a great new way to communicate. As these sites become more and more popular, however, it’s vitally important that safeguards are in place that provide users with control over their personal information to ensure they don’t receive unwanted solicitations.”

The main feature Schumer wants to add is reverting the standard from opt-out to opt-in. This way many social networkers who unfamiliar with their privacy options aren’t forced to first discover the many ways their data is being mined and then shut them off.

Ever since Facebook announced its ambitious plan to dominate the Web, many privacy concerns have arisen. With so many potentially invasive new features—including the social bar plug-in, the like buttons, the recommendation plug-in, the activity stream plug-in, and the log-in changes—it’s difficult for some to grasp what, precisely, your clicks are doing. You may need to make a lot of tweaks to your privacy settings, and for some users, such a task is daunting. Creating a mandatory opt-in feature would eliminate the need for many to worry about losing personal information.

This is obviously not the first time Facebook has come under scrutiny, even from the FTC. Earlier this year, Facebook—along with Google—was lashed for failing to protect user data. Not to mention the trouble Facebook faced in 2009 with its privacy changes and the complaints that followed.

Schumer’s demand comes at an opportune moment. Facebook’s immediate cooperation could save the site from a lot of upcoming flak, and would set an example for other social networking sites to follow for years to come.

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