Two of the leading privacy advocates in Congress and co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Privacy, Representatives Edward Markey (DMA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter to Facebook on October 18, 2010 to inquire into a recently reported data breach of the company’s social media platform. The Wall Street Journal reported that certain data of Facebook users had been revealed through third party applications at use on the site.
The House Letter poses 18 questions to Facebook seeking information about the breach, including the number of affected users, when Facebook became aware of the breach, and what changes Facebook plans to undertake to address the problem. The letter also requests copies of Facebook’s agreements with third party app developers and information on the financial remuneration paid to Facebook as a result of the information sharing.
This letter follows a series of other letters from Representatives Markey and Barton to other online companies. On October 8th, Rep. Markey and Rep. Barton released responses to letters they had sent to 15 companies that had been identified in a media report as maintaining websites that installed tracking technology on the computers of visitors to their websites. The media report revealed that each of the top 50 most popular U.S. websites installed an average of 64 tracking tools on visitors’ computers, some by outside vendors, but others by the websites themselves. The letters requested information on the websites’ privacy practices and the tracking technologies installed by third parties. The letters also requested information on the technologies used for tracking and the types of data collected, including whether consumers were targeted based on health or financial data.
Rep. Markey states that these responses “raise a number of concerns, including whether consumers are able to effectively shield their personal Internet habits and private information from the prying eyes of online data gatherers.”2 He also said that while these websites cited to privacy policies, many of the privacy policies are “complicated and laborious to navigate” and that consumers were kept “in the dark” by websites that did not make the identities of their third party affiliates readily accessible.3