Facebook’s Washington Problem: the social network is facing a privacy backlash that could prompt congressional hearings

Facebook, the ever-expanding social networking site, delights millions of users with its innovative ways to stay in touch. At the same time, the six-year-old online phenomenon continually tests their tolerance for sacrificing privacy. Now it has provoked a new skirmish — this time with members of the U.S. Congress. On May 12 aides to Senator Charles Schumer (D — N.Y.) met in Washington with Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s public relations and policy chief, to discuss concerns about the company’s privacy policies. Schumer has had talks with colleagues about holding congressional hearings, according to a person familiar with the proceedings.Senator Mark Begich (D — Alaska) says he’s worried about new data-gathering capabilities Facebook has introduced and what he sees as the Web company’s arrogance in brushing off questions about its practices. The site has launched a feature that builds restaurant guides and music playlists derived from personal information supplied by users and their Facebook friends. Begich, Schumer, and two colleagues — Al Franken (D — Minn.), and Michael Bennet (D — Colo.) — wrote a letter dated Apr. 27 to Facebook founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg taking him to task over how this commercially valuable information is being shared with other Web sites and marketers, sometimes without users’ consent. In early May, the Alaska lawmaker sent aides to meet with Facebook in D.C. So far, Begich says, nothing has changed. Facebook’s inaction, he says, “tells me that we need to elevate this so they understand how important it is.”

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