Facebook reconsiders privacy policy for minors

Facebook says it is "actively considering" whether to again allow third-party applications to request mobile phone numbers and home addresses from users younger than 18.

The ability of applications to request that information from users of the social networking site has been controversial since Facebook first allowed it briefly in January. Facebook disabled the feature for all users a few days later, after criticism from some users and privacy experts.

Facebook has said some users might want to share their cell phone number with an application to get text message alerts on special deals, or allow an Internet shopping site to have access to their home addresses to make the checkout process faster.

In a letter to lawmakers released Monday, Facebook said it was working to "re-enable" the feature, but with changes.

It could, for example, continue to disable the feature for minors. Facebook also could revise the permission screen to let users see more clearly what information they are making available when they approve requests for personal information from third parties.

"We have not yet decided when or in what manner we will redeploy the permission for mobile numbers and addresses," Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president for global public policy, wrote to Reps. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Joe L. Barton, R-Texas.

The two lawmakers are key congressional players on privacy issues and jumped into the dispute about Facebook's new feature early last month. They wrote to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg asking 11 detailed questions and expressing concerns that it would violate the privacy of users.

On Monday, the congressmen released the seven-page response they received last week from Facebook.

Levine stressed that Facebook users still must give permission to applications seeking personal data.

More recent user feedback about the new feature, she wrote, led Facebook executives to determine that it could be re-enabled with clearer and more visible statements on the permission screen.

With children involved, Markey said, it was crucial for Facebook to get the policy right. He urged the company not to allow applications to have access to contact information for minors.

"I'm pleased that Facebook's response indicated that it's looking to enhance its process for highlighting for users when they are being asked for permission to share their contact information," Markey said.

"I'm also encouraged that Facebook is deciding whether to allow applications on the site to request contact information from minors," he said. "I don't believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teens' contact information if they enable this new feature."