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Facebook's expansion triggers political backlash

Facebook's plan to spread its online social network to other websites could be detoured by regulators looking into privacy concerns that have raised the ire of federal lawmakers.

Four senators said Tuesday that Facebook needs to make it easier for its 400 million users to protect their privacy as the site opens more avenues for them to share their interests and other personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission already had been examining the privacy and data collection practices of Facebook and other social networks, the agency confirmed Tuesday.

Then last week, Facebook announced a proposed expansion that irked Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and, he says, many Web surfers who called his office to complain.

Having built one of the Web's most popular hangouts, Facebook is trying to extend its reach through new tools called "social plug-ins." These enable its users to share their interests in such products as clothes, movies and music on other websites.

Facebook says all this will help personalize the Web for people. It stresses no personal information is being given to the dozens of websites using the new plug-ins. Still, it means that information that hadn't been previously communicated could get broadcast to your friends and family on Facebook.

And Facebook is indeed sharing some personal information with three websites that it hopes will demonstrate how online services can be more helpful when they know more about their users. The sites with greater access to Facebook's data are business review service Yelp, music service Pandora and Microsoft's Docs.com for word processing and spreadsheets.

Facebook users who don't want to be part of the company's expansion have to go through their privacy settings and change their preferences.

Schumer thinks the onus instead should be on Facebook to get users' explicit consent, a process known as "opting in."

He sent a letter calling for simpler privacy controls to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

His concerns were echoed by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo; Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

Schumer called Facebook's response inadequate and said his staff planned to meet with the company today.

Facebook's expansion triggers political backlash 04/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 12:12am]

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