A bipartisan pair of senators, Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to explain Facebook's privacy practices, particularly when it comes from users' location data.
In a letter to Zuckerberg dated Tuesday, Nov. 19, they said they were concerned that Facebook had misled those users about data collection and privacy settings.
“Location data is among the most sensitive personal information that a user can share with a company. Today, modern smartphones can reveal location data beyond a mere street address,” they wrote. “We appreciate Facebook’s attempt to proactively inform users about their privacy options. However, we are concerned that Facebook may not in fact be offering users the level of control that the company suggests these settings provide.”
They said that in Facebook's blog post about user control over location data, the company says that while users running the newest versions of iOS and Android can decide whether to share "precise" location information, the post goes on to say that "[Facebook] may still understand your location using things like check-ins, events and information about hour internet connection."
While that sounds like Facebook trying to be transparent about how the vast amount of data it has, by virtue of what services the platform provides, can still provide some location information, the legislators said they are concerned that the "language and practice undermines users' actual control over their location data..."
Hawley and Coons want answers to the following questions by Dec. 12:
1. "Does Facebook collect any information about a user’s location if the user has turned off or limited Location Services for Facebook? If so, please explain why Facebook collects such information and the process used to collect that data.
2. "Does Facebook collect any information about a user’s location based only on information about a user’s internet connection?
3. "How frequently does Facebook collect location data based on information about a user’s internet connection when a user has turned off or limited Location Services?
4. "What is the difference between the “precise” location information collected when a user has Location Services enabled and the location information collected by Facebook using other data, such as the user’s internet connection, when a user has turned off or limited Location Services? How detailed is the location data that Facebook collects when a user has turned off or limited Location Services?
5. "Does Facebook target advertisements or otherwise monetize the location information it collects when a user has turned off or limited Location Services?
6. "If Facebook does target advertisements based on the location information that it collects when a user has turned off or limited Location Services, is it possible for a user to configure his or her privacy settings such that Facebook never monetizes any location information about that user?
7. "Does Facebook share the location information that it collects when a user has turned off or limited Location Services with third parties?"
Zuckerberg and Facebook have both been under a klieg light in Washington as the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Congress are all looking into a variety of Web platform issues, from privacy and data security to allegations of censorship, to whether they gained their vast market power anticompetitively.