Facebook was advised by senators on Tuesday to increase the privacy protections on their leading social networking website, according to Reuters. Democratic senators Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Mark Begich and Al Franken wrote an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg voicing concerns that the recent changes to the website will expose personal information to individuals that are not included on the user's friend list as well as third parties.
Facebook recently expanded the amount of profile data available to the public, which now includes a user's city, hometown, education, work and friends. The senators expressed their dismay by writing, "Through the expanded use of connections, Facebook now obligates users to make publicly available certain parts of their profile that were previously private," in a letter released to Politico.
The senators also expressed concern over the "like" application, which allows third parties to store user information for a 24-hour period.
"We are concerned that recent changes allow that data to be stored indefinitely. We believe that Facebook should reverse this policy, or at a minimum require users to opt in to allowing third parties to store data for more than 24 hours," the senators commented.
Personalization applications also allow third parties to access not only the user's public information but also the user's friend list and their personal information without their knowledge or permission.
"In the meantime, we believe Facebook can take swift and productive steps to alleviate the concerns of its users," the senators wrote. "Providing opt-in mechanisms for information sharing instead of expecting users to go through long and complicated opt-out processes is a critical step."
The privacy settings of social networking websites are gaining more attention as the number of Americans who fall victim to identity theft is on the rise. Criminals can use social networking sites to obtain personal information that could be used to steal a user's identity. Information such as hometown, education, work information, email address and name or address may jeopardize a user's identity.
Criminals who obtain a user's email address, for example, may obtain damaging information through "phishing" which tricks the user into giving out personal and financial data, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Users can safeguard their identities by removing personal information from social networking sites.