Facebook execs meet Schumer staff today

Senator's criticism of Facebook privacy rules prompts face-to-face meeting

Facebook officials today met with the staff of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who has publicly called on the social networking site to tighten its privacy policies.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes confirmed today's meeting and called it "a productive conversation."

Yesterday, Schumer and fellow Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), called on Facebook to implement privacy policies that better safeguard the personal information of its users.

Neither Schumer nor his colleagues at yesterday's press conference attended today's meeting with Facebook, a source close to the situation told Computerworld this afternoon.

Schumer called yesterday's press conference a day after releasing an open letter urging the Federal Trade Commission to set up privacy guidelines for all social networking sites, including Facebook and rivals Twitter and MySpace.

The criticism of of social networks comes shortly after Facebook unveiled a bevy of tools aimed at extending the social networking leader's reach across a greater expanse of the Web.

Facebook said the new tools will enable its users' information to be shared with other Web sites.

"We share the goal of user trust, the importance of innovation on the Internet, and how innovation can create better experiences for users," Noyes said after today's meeting. "As an example, we talked about the success of the personalization announcements we made last week and the measurable benefits users and our Web partners have experienced. At the same time, we recognize that some users have concerns and we discussed ways to address them."

Noyes also noted that Schumer's staff raised "a number of questions" about privacy guidelines that Facebook officials promised to explore and respond to.

"We appreciate their thoughts and look forward to their assistance in helping make sure users understand the controls they have over their information and what happens with information they share," he added. "More generally, we talked about responsible business practices for services that promote the sharing of personal information and communications across the Internet."

Schumer's office could not be reached for comment.

However, all four senators involved in Tuesday's press conference did pen a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which he received yesterday.

"While Facebook provides a valuable service to users by keeping them connected with friends and family and reconnecting them with long-lost friends and colleagues, the expansion of Facebook - both in the number of users and applications - raises new concerns for users who want to maintain control over their information," the senators wrote. "We look forward to the FTC examining this issue, but in the meantime we believe Facebook can take swift and productive steps to alleviate the concerns of its users."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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