Lawmakers are looking to question Facebook regarding its privacy practices after claims that the service uncovered sensitive health information in groups.
In a Federal Trade Commission complaint, filed a month ago and publicly released yesterday, a security analyst and health advocates said the organization was failing to keep sensitive data secure. The complaint originated from an incident a year ago, when individuals from a group of women with a gene mutation called BRCA discovered that information like names and email addresses could be accessed from “closed” groups.
Facebook has since removed that ability to harvest that data, however, it has denied that there was ever a security loophole, and has pointed to the option to make less discoverable “secret” groups. The complaint argued that, regardless of the change, individual data is still excessively available to individuals within sensitive groups.
Presently, a letter from lawmakers on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is questioning whether Facebook users were “possibly deluded” about what information they would uncover by joining a closed group. The letter, addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, questions whether the company “may have failed to properly notify group members that their personal health information may have been accessed by health insurance companies and online bullies, among others.” The letter asks for a staff briefing about the issues brought up in the complaint.
“Facebook isn’t an anonymous platform; real-time identity is at the center of the experience and dependably has been,” a Facebook representative said in a statement. “It’s intentionally clear to individuals that when they join any groups on Facebook, other members from that group can see that they are a piece of that community, and can see the posts they pick to share with that community. There is a value in having the capacity to know who you’re having a discussion with in a group, and we anticipate briefing the board on this.”
The organization is supposedly negotiating with the FTC over a possibly massive fine for privacy issues.
“In light of the Committee’s continuing commitment to secure the privacy of the American individuals, we ask for a staff briefing on the issues raised by the complaint no later than March 1, 2019,” the letter reads, “so we can better comprehend Facebook’s practices as for so-called closed and anonymous groups.”