Facebook: Lawmakers aired 'legitimate' concerns, but most users like changes

Top Facebook officials on Wednesday admitted Sen. Chuck Schumer had aired "absolutely legitimate questions and concerns" during a recent meeting about the site's features that share user data with select websites and advertisers.

However, representatives from the 400-million strong social network later stressed that negative reaction to those new tools on Capitol Hill differed markedly from the opinion of "the vast majority of users," who Facebook said, "appreciate these innovations."

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"That's why we're really pleased following the announcement we made last week... at the response that people have had," said Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of Global Communications, Marketing and Public Policy. "Because while a lot of people in Washington may be focused on the concerns people have, the response across the Web has been that more people are more engaged..."

"And candidly, the fact that users... consistently spend more time on Facebook and related services makes us feel like what we're doing is working in the right direction," Schrage added.

A group of Senate Democrats, led by Schumer (N.Y.), have hammered Facebook this week for instituting two new features that they say undermines users' privacy. The first, "instant personalization," allows select websites to cull a user's profile information, unless those users later decline to participate. Another, the Open Graph API, permits sites or applications to draw details from Facebook pages to be used in special ads or targeted offers.

The changes, which Schumer discovered through his daughter, prompted the New York Democrat to ask the Federal Trade Commission to issue guidelines on social network privacy. And it moved three other Senate Democrats -- Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) -- to join Schumer in petitioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday to explain the size and scope of Facebook's new information-sharing tools.

Facebook executives met with Schumer's aides today to discuss the privacy implications and concerns.

Facebook's Schrage on Wednesday described his social network's new features as "really just the latest in a long history of innovations," adding that other changes to the site -- including Facebook's decision to permit access to high school students -- also triggered social and political criticism.

Still, Schrage said Facebook executives met with Schumer's staff and had a "productive conversation," a meeting during which the senator's team aired "underlying points" that Facebook felt "were absolutely legitimate..."

"We share the goal of user trust, the importance of innovation on the Internet, and how innovation can create better experiences for users," spokesman Andrew Noyes elaborated after the call.

"The senator’s staff raised a number of questions that we promised to explore and respond to going forward," he said. "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."

As that debate unfolds, FTC officials signaled this week they would heed Schumer's request and explore whether there had sufficient statutory authority to issue general social network guidelines. Sensing that, Schrage on Wednesday said Facebook is already working with the commission on matters of social network privacy.

"We've been in contact with the FTC regularly," he said. "We work pretty closely with them to identify best practices for dealing with these issues."