Facebook, Privacy, and Politicians’ Hypocrisy

by on May 25, 2010 · 5 comments

Facebook has had a tough month. The site’s latest round of privacy changes, implemented last month, spurred stiff backlash — not just from so-called privacy advocates, but also from several U.S. Senators. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back with an op-ed in The Washington Post, as Braden discussed here yesterday.

I’ve had much to say about Facebook’s past privacy controversies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), but what really sticks out about the latest anti-Facebook backlash is who’s leading the charge: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.

Seriously, of all people, Chuck Schumer should be the last to criticize Facebook’s privacy practices. That’s because Schumer is leading the push in Congress to establish a biometric national identification regime. If Schumer had his way, all Americans, including U.S. citizens, wishing to legally work in this country would be required by law to obtain a national ID card! Compared to this highly invasive potential exercise of the state’s coercive power, concerns about Facebook’s privacy practices seem downright trivial.

I elaborated on Schumer’s hypocrisy and discussed the problems surrounding federal regulation of online privacy in an op-ed that recently appeared on Townhall.com:

Hypocrisy in politics is nothing new. But Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) set a new standard for it last week when he and three of his colleagues attacked social networking giant Facebook over its privacy practices. In a scathing letter, the senators demanded that Facebook change certain features to give users greater “control over their information.” The real threat to privacy, however, comes not from innovative companies like Facebook, but from posturing politicians.

The controversy began last month when Facebook unveiled several new changes and features. Under the new privacy policy, Facebook user profiles are linked to the popular websites Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft’s Docs.com by default. Users can opt out of these “social plug-ins.” Facebook also made all users’ likes and interests publicly visible, with no opt-out. These changes angered some users and sparked uproar in the blogosphere.

Naturally, politicians saw this controversy as a chance to score political points by getting involved. Sen. Schumer and company asked federal regulators to “recommend” privacy guidelines for social networking sites, and are reportedly on the verge of introducing legislation to regulate online privacy.

One moment, Sen. Schumer implores Facebook to change its privacy policies. The next, he’s leading the push in Congress to require all Americans to have national ID cards. Unlike social networking sites, which are entirely voluntary, Americans will not be able to “opt out” of Schumer’s national ID scheme. (Schumer’s proposal even requires citizens’ biometric information, like an iris scan or fingerprint.)

Perhaps Sen. Schumer could use a dose of his own privacy medicine.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

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