Online Privacy Update: Senate Commerce Chairman Rockefeller Questions Facebook and MySpace

Social networkers concerned about their online privacy gained an ally in Congress the same day they learned that, once again, yes, there’s an app for that.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) delivered a letter to the leaders of MySpace and Facebook on Tuesday demanding more information about the recent spate of privacy breaches involving personal information.

Rockefeller was reacting to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting of alleged privacy leaks on Facebook and MySpace that found third-party app companies were providing user data from the sites to advertisers.

The letter was delivered the same day that software firm BitDefender released its SafegoApp free to consumers. The privacy app, ironically coming from a third-party app developer, uses scanning technology to identify vulnerable personal information and scan for malicious links.

Taking the legislative approach, Rockefeller questioned Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and MySpace President Michael Jones on how each’s respective company enforces its privacy policy, what penalties it imposes for violations and what steps are taken to avoid future breaches.

“I intend to find out whether today’s social-networking sites are adequately protecting their users’ personal information,” Rockefeller said today in a statement. “I fully intend to conduct oversight and formulate strong public policy that protects the privacy of American consumers.”

Rockefeller’s move comes days after the White House created a subcommittee to investigate Internet privacy and a new poll showed 60 percent of Americans want Congressional hearings on the issue, as we reported earlier.

Facebook and MySpace have yet to fully respond to the senator’s questions, although Facebook’s Washington spokesman noted his company has already taken steps to encrypt user IDs and is working with Internet browsers to avoid future breaches.

Rockefeller is not the first member of Congress to demand answers from social networking sites.

Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) wrote a letter to Zuckerberg earlier this month questioning who has been affected by the app breach and how the company aims to change its policies.

Nonetheless, it remains unlikely that Congress will act on this until well after next week’s midterm elections.

While Congress is on the campaign trail, will you try the new app?

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