Citizen Action Monitor

U.S. Senator: New Facebook policy “will place users at great risk”

No 134 Posted by fw, March 13, 2011

Echoing the concerns of Eben Moglen — “Centralized services like Facebook can kill you ” — U.S. Senator Al Franken is taking action to stop Facebook in its tracks. The Senator’s concerns are much more circumscribed than those of Moglen, who worries that the identity and actions of so-called “radical” activists and freedom fighters could easily be compromised by using centralized services — like Facebook, Google and Twitter — owned by private corporate bodies in the U.S.. The U.S. government has effectively legislated cyber-spying on its own citizens. And we know now that dictators will not hesitate to pull the plug on electronic information and communication systems when faced with mass citizen unrest or revolt.

Senator Franken expressed his concerns and his actions in an article, The great risk of Facebook’s privacy plan, which was published in the March 12, 2011 issue of Reader Supported News:

In January, Facebook made a troubling announcement that it plans to allow third-party developers to request access to the home addresses and phone numbers of users. Despite Facebook’s insistence that it will protect its users, I believe this policy will place users at great risk. That’s why I wrote a letter with Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to stop plans for this new third party access to personal data. Armed with nothing more than a Facebook user’s phone number and home address, anyone with an Internet connection and a few dollars can obtain personal information they should never have access to, including a user’s date of birth, e-mail address, or estimated income. In fact, by using this information, an identity thief could get almost all of the data he would need to apply for a loan or a credit card in the name of an unsuspecting Facebook user.

And even more alarming, Facebook’s new privacy policy would endanger the privacy and safety of children as young as 13. Under Facebook’s policy, 13 million users under the age of 18 may be allowed to share their personal information just like adult users. These younger users are the most vulnerable to predators on Facebook and the rest of the Internet and it should be impossible for them to inadvertently share their phone numbers and home addresses with anyone.

The boom of new technologies over the last several years has made it easier to keep in touch with family and friends, but it has also put an unprecedented amount of personal information into the hands of large companies and unknown third parties. It’s important that Facebook protect its users by reversing their plans to permit developers to request and access this private information. It’s even more important that Facebook protect the children who use its website by never allowing them to accidentally share their phone numbers and home addresses with people who may want to hurt them.


Here is a selection of what some readers had to say about the Senator’s article:

  • Not to mention governments tracking down facebook users during street demonstrations.
  • I agree with Billy Bob in the main, but personally I have learned so much about American foreign policy in my FB interactions from people around the globe. FB is where I first learned the truth about the Oppression and Occupation of Palestine by USrael. Now, having said that- this use of private info by FB “should” be a no-brainer BUT since no one representing us appears to have one of THOSE- we’re screwed.
  • Most unfortunately, what will have to happen to force Zuckerberg to change anything is a lawsuit – and maybe criminal charges. This will happen when the worst happens – when someone deliberately targets a minor, uses facebook information, and does some unmentionable harm to that minor. That’s the way our system works. No one in the government would dream of curtailing the activities or decisions of a powerful corporation – until something very, very bad happens.
  • This is another abuse that a big $ corp can take without suffering a consequence. You try this and you’ll end up like Assange or Private Manning. How could President Obama ASK the abusers of Pvt Manning if they “can” keep him naked and in solidary? “For his own good”? I’m worried. I don’t want another R in the W.H. = we’d be in WWIII in a flash (++ more) We may never recover from the Bush 8 years!
  • Senator Franken I concur with your entire opinion and fact that you have shared here. Now I can only hope that if Mr Zuckerberg ignores the laws and the rights that the people of America are protected under from this kind of atrocity that you will not stand by and let him get away with it. What is happening to our society when you have to personally contact 3 other senators to remind them that what Mr Zuckerberg is about to do not only puts a whole lot of people in the face of danger but that people are going to have to fight for their rights as well. There’s something very wrong with that scenario. The competency of our officials and judges lately have just left me speechless and not knowing what to say, or at least not here anyways. Something has got to change, I am going to follow this issue close and I am putting my faith into you senator to see that the right thing is done is this person goes off into left field and ignores the American people.
  • If this goes thru’ – I will quit Facebook.
  • Maybe we should start a new sharing site with GUARANTEED PRIVACY??
  • I knew there was a reason I haven’t joined!
  • Those added “membership” extras can confuse, annoy, invade privacy and misuse identity.

Adding my comment to the mix, I would put it this way —

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Would you trust this corporate billionaire to protect your privacy rights?

And in the photo on the right, would you trust the guy on the left, described by Moglen as heading up a surveillance-industrial-military complex, to follow through with his election campaign promises to revoke the policies of the guy on his right, with respect to data mining, surveillance, and domestic security in the net?

And in these troubling times, with public and private union members on the march across the U.S., will state and even federal government.agencies be tempted to monitor the online communication of citizen activist leaders? What particularly worries me is that I would even ask such a question.

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