Facebook privacy concerns heat up

For Facebook, the timing could hardly have been worse: a headline about a newly discovered “privacy loophole” amid a growing chorus of complaints from users and consumer advocates about the way Facebook is sharing data on the Web.

Facebook said it moved promptly to close the loophole, ensuring that advertisers would not be able to access personal identifying information about users, after the loophole was confirmed by a computer scientist asked by The Wall Street Journal to review Facebook and smaller social networking sites.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped up its criticism of Facebook on Friday, and more Facebook users are sharing links to sites such as ReclaimPrivacy.org or signing pledges at QuitFacebookDay.com, which targets May 31 as a day of protest.

More than 175,000 links to ReclaimPrivacy, a tool that helps users monitor their Facebook privacy settings, have been shared since it went live May 14, said creator Matt Pizzimenti, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. More than 50,000 fans are on ReclaimPrivacy’s Facebook page.

Even before the latest disclosure, Facebook was facing criticism from privacy advocates over format changes it announced in April, prompting a coalition of consumer advocates to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook executives in recent days have said they are working to develop simpler privacy settings given the backlash to the rollout of a new format and its “instant personalization” feature.

The changes, critics said, make it more difficult for users to control information they place on Facebook. This is a violation of Facebook’s statement of principles, said Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“The issue I see here is that Facebook has been emphatic that it does not share this information with advertisers. But this story shows there’s some leakage here,” Opsahl said. “So they’re not ensuring that their technology is doing what their privacy policy says and what their public relations is saying.”

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