Barton: Internet Privacy Policy In Congress' Crosshairs

Facebook has told Congress repeatedly and in no
uncertain terms that its sharing of user IDs with third-party applications
is not a breach of privacy, but is instead "critical" to Web surfers'
ability to tap into "innovative, social experiences" from thousands
of companies delivering value to millions.

But it did say it was taking steps to prevent
third parties from sharing that info with data brokers and ad companies, which
is already a violation of its policies.

That came in a response to Reps. Joe Barton
(R-Tex.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucus, who
had sought answers to a bunch of questions after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook IDs were showing up in the referrer URLs of
third-party applications.

Barton thanked the company for its prompt
response, but said that Internet privacy policies would be "in the
crosshairs" in the next Congress.

But Facebook said that the newspaper's
uncovering of the "inadvertent sharing" of those user IDs by
third parties was an issue of legitimate concern, though it also says that, at
most, the ID enables access to info that a user has already agreed to make
publicly available.

In her response, Marne Levine, VP of global public
policy, said the company is already developing a mechanism "that will
prevent UIDs from being transmitted to applications via URL, and which in
turn will prevent the inadvertent passing of UIDs via referrer URLs."
But calling it an industry-wide problem--the Journal in a follow-up report made that point, says
Levine--"We are working to launch an industry-wide initiative to equip
browsers with privacy controls that would prevent such inadvertent passing of

Levine told the congressmen that Facebook
does not benefit financially from any information sharing between
third-party applications and ad or Internet tracking companies, and that its
policy expressly prohibits that sharing. She also said the "handful"
of third parties that were intentionally sharing user IDs with data brokers had
been dealt with and that the data would be deleted.

She said as far as the company knew, no data
related to any user, minor or otherwise, was breached via the referrer URLs,
which includes the sensitive medical and financial information that legislators
are particularly concerned with protecting.

"It's good that Facebook was in a hurry to
respond to our concerns, but the fact remains that some third-party applications
were knowingly transferring personal information in direct violation
of Facebook's privacy promises to its users," said Barton in a statement.
Barton is ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and would
like to be its next chairman. "Millions of people put their information into
the hands of Facebook and services like it because they believe what
they're told about walls protecting their privacy," he added. "I want
the Internet economy to prosper, but it can't unless the people's right to
privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done."

"No one likes being friends with someone who
invades their privacy," Markey added.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.