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Facebook executive warns senators that restrictive privacy rules could squelch benefits of 'social Web'

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A top Facebook executive told senators considering new online privacy protections that the company fears that placing tougher limits on the use of consumer data could squelch its network and the rest of the "social Web" because it would inhibit the sharing of information.

"Facebook is fundamentally about sharing, and adopting overly restrictive policies will prevent our social features from functioning in the way that individuals expect and demand," Bret Taylor, Facebook's chief technology officer, said in written testimony before the Senate's consumer protection subcommittee.

"Thus, to satisfy people’s expectations, we not only need to innovate to create new protections for individuals’ information," he said. "We also need to innovate to ensure that new protections do
not interfere with people’s freedom to share and connect."

Taylor said Facebook has "robust privacy protections" and considers those protections when developing new services, a practice known as "privacy by design." But he cautioned that in an era when many people want to share their pictures and other information to get the most out of social networks, Facebook doesn't want to assume that everyone wants a vault around their data.

"Of course, privacy by design does not mean privacy by default," Taylor said. "As services evolve, so do people’s expectations of privacy. At Facebook, we believe that providing substantive privacy protections means building a service that allows individuals to control their own social experiences and to decide whether and how they want to share information."

Taylor testified at the subcommittee's hearing titled Consumer Privacy and Protection in the Mobile Marketplace. The hearing comes as lawmakers are considering whether there should be new laws specifically governing location data sent from smart phones and other mobile devices.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are also looking into new ways to protect online privacy.

The issue of mobile privacy has heated up after security researchers said last month that they found an obscure file in the software on Apple iPhones and iPads that could store thousands of detailed records of a user's whereabouts. Google also said it collects such location data from mobile devices using its Android software.

Executives from Apple and Google, testifying at a hearing last week by another Senate subcommittee, said they collected the information anonymously and shared it with third-party applications only if the user agreed to it.

Apple and Google executives also are scheduled to testify at Thursday's hearing.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who has introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent the misuse of sensitive consumer information, said that privacy protection is not "the enemy of innovation."

"In fact, a more trusted information economy, I believe, will encourage greater consumer participation … in that marketplace," he said. "Companies collecting people's information, whether you're a tech titan or not, ought to comply with a basic code of conduct."

RELATED:

Apple, Google try to ease lawmakers' privacy concerns

FCC steps into privacy debate over location-based data, announcing forum

iPhone and iPad can track a user's location history

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Bret Taylor, chief technology officer at Facebook, left, testifies at a Senate Commerce Committee panel hearing on mobile privacy in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2011. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

 
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