Senators press Facebook amid new questions on data-sharing practices

Senators press Facebook amid new questions on data-sharing practices
© Greg Nash

Senators are demanding more answers from Facebook over a new report revealing that the company shared user data with device makers.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline MORE (R-S.D.) on Monday said that his committee plans to send Facebook a letter seeking more information on the matter.

Thune said in a statement that the report “raises important questions about transparency and potential privacy risks.”

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Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes MORE (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), two Democrats who sit on the Senate panel, sent their own letter Monday asking Facebook to explain its data-sharing partnerships with device makers like Apple and BlackBerry.

“We write seeking more information regarding Facebook’s data sharing policies and practices, Facebook’s security monitoring of device companies with user data access, and your previous statements on these topics before Congress,” the senators wrote.

The Democrats said that a New York Times report published Sunday calls Facebook’s credence on matters of data collection further into question.

“These reports further add to Facebook’s track record of opacity around privacy practices and call into question whether Facebook violated its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),” they wrote.

The lawmakers pressed Facebook to explain how device makers are different from other third parties when it comes to sharing user data, what privacy requirements Facebook has imposed on device makers and what companies still have access to data shared with device makers.

Other lawmakers have voiced similar concerns about Facebook sharing user data.

On Sunday night, Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse votes to censure Gosar and boot him from committees House to vote Wednesday to censure Gosar, remove him from committees Gosar faces increasing odds of censure on House floor MORE (D-R.I.) accused the social media company of potentially lying about its data privacy practices.

Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrat Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers discussing potential compromise to revive drug pricing measure House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug MORE (N.J.) and a spokesperson for Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.) also said they found the Times report troubling and were planning on examining the matter further.

Facebook’s partnerships allowed device makers to obtain user data such as relationship status, religion and political leanings, and also allowed for the sharing of data on users’ Facebook friends, according to the Times report.

The social media giant has reportedly started to end the partnerships but has not completely shuttered them with every company.

Facebook on Monday pushed back against the Times's story, writing in a post that partner companies “signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.”

The social media company has already been in congressional crosshairs over privacy concerns, with lawmakers grilling CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny Meta exec who co-founded Diem digital currency leaving the company Two lawyers who filed suit challenging election results ordered to pay nearly 7K MORE in April over how the firm Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain the data of 87 million Facebook users.