House Lawmakers Grill Admin Officials On Authority Over Social Networking Sites

Following up on the ongoing concerns over social networking sites’ management of their users’ personal information, congressional lawmakers on Thursday questioned whether the government’s leading agencies tasked with protecting consumers and regulating the nation’s communications systems were doing enough to protect individuals’ privacy.

“What is the [Federal Trade Commission] doing to oversee Google+ and the new service that apparently there’s some problems with?” demanded Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

“What is the FTC doing in regards to Facebook and the facial recognition technology? Does that pose a threat to privacy?”The heads of the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and the National Telecommunication and Information Administration were summoned to testify at a House Energy and Commerce hearing about their efforts to curb improper data collection, use, and sharing of consumers’ personal information.

FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez offered no specific details into her agency’s investigations but did reassure the members of the panel that the FTC was monitoring privacy issues.

“I’m afraid I can’t comment on specific private companies but what I can tell you is that the agency is looking very closely at the social networking arena,” said Ramirez, pointing to the investigation, and subsequent settlement of a case regarding Google Buzz, one of the company’s previous, unsuccessful attempts at social networking.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) followed up on Google’s apparent failure to adequately respond to earlier inquiries regarding Google Street View, its national mapping service that also came under fire due to privacy issues.

“[Google] made fairly significant verbal assurances that they would improve their behavior but apparently that’s all they did,” Barton said. “They really didn’t change their business model and it appears to me Google had adopted a model of saying one thing in Washington and doing another in their business practices.”

“We might need to drop the ‘G’ from Google and just call them ‘Oogle’ because of what they appear to be doing,” he added to a bemused audience.

Barton further inquired whether the FTC needed additional legislative authority to more effectively protect users’ internet data. Ramirez intimated that she didn’t know whether legislation was needed per se, but that the FTC’s authority to regulate internet privacy was certainly limited.

Google+ appears to be the company’s hottest new product — but one influential network whiz doesn’t appear to like his private data on the web – Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who changed his Google+ profile to private earlier this week.

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