By Gautham Nagesh - 03/10/11 03:44 PM EST
Four Democratic senators are asking Facebook to reverse a plan that would allow application developers to request users' phone numbers and addresses.
“Anyone with ten minutes, $25, and a Facebook user’s phone number and address and no other information can obtain a breathtaking amount of information about that Facebook user — and that Facebook user’s family, friends, neighbors, and landlord,” wrote Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse, (R.I.), Chuck Schumer
(N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday.
“Combined with a targeted Google search, these two pieces of information can allow someone to obtain almost all of the information necessary to complete a loan or credit card application. It is hard to contemplate all of the different ways in which this information could be abused.”
The senators cited Facebook's response last month to a letter from Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) acknowledging the social network plans to allow application developers to request users' contact information.
The conflict reflects another example of the growing resistance to Facebook's real-identity ecosystem, in which Web users are identified by their biographical data rather than self-chosen identifiers. Lawmakers are concerned app developers could use that data to compromise individuals' privacy.
But Facebook envisions itself as a secure platform through which students can apply to college or users can fill in their shipping data at e-commerce sites with one click. The site is quick to note that no user data is shared without permission, but many users choose to do so for convenience.
"We believe there is great value in letting people choose to share information about themselves on Facebook, just as they are voluntarily registering this information on sites across the Web, and offline in ways as simple as a return-address sticker," said spokesman Andrew Noyes in a statement.
"Despite rumors, apps and external websites cannot access a user's address or phone number from Facebook without that user’s permission. People are always in control of what information they share through our service."
The lawmakers express concern the data could be used to steal users' identities. They request the social network to reverse the policy, or at a minimum block the feature from the accounts of the 13 million teenagers between ages 13 and 17 active on Facebook.
"This is consistent with Facebook's existing practices of strengthening privacy setting for teenage users," the letter states. "We believe that these are modest requests that will go a long way in protecting the privacy and security of millions of Americans."