Facebook might prevent applications from asking minors for contact information
Facebook said Monday it was "actively considering" whether to allow third-party applications to request mobile phone numbers and addresses from users younger than 18.
The ability of applications to request that information from users of the social networking site has been the subject of controversy since Facebook first allowed it in January. Facebook disabled the feature a couple of days later after criticism from some users and privacy experts.
In a letter to lawmakers released Monday, Facebook said it was working to "re-enable" the feature but with changes. In addition to possibly disabling the feature for minors, Facebook said it was considering revising the permission screen that users see before they give their approval to an application to make it clearer what information they are sharing.
"We have not yet decided when or in what manner we will redeploy the permission for mobile numbers and addresses," Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president for global public policy, wrote to Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas).
The two lawmakers are key congressional players on privacy issues and early last month jumped into the dispute about Facebook's new feature. They wrote to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg asking 11 detailed questions and expressing concerns that it would violate the privacy of users.
On Monday, the congressmen released the seven-page response they received last week from Facebook. Levine stressed that Facebook users must give permission to applications seeking their personal information. Still, she wrote that user feedback about the new feature led Facebook officials to determine they "might be able to increase visibility" of the request for mobile phone and address information on the permission screen.
With children involved, Markey said it was crucial for Facebook to get the policy right. He urged the company not to allow applications to have access to contact information for teens.
Markey said he was pleased that Facebook was looking to make it clearer for users to see when an application wants permission to access their contact information.
"I'm also encouraged that Facebook is deciding whether to allow applications on the site to request contact information from minors. I don't believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teens' contact information if they enable this new feature."
-- Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: Sign at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Credit: Bloomberg.