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Franken faces off with Facebook over privacy issues

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., center, accompanied by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., left, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday to discuss Facebook's new information policy. AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

U.S. Sen. Al Franken wants the social networking website Facebook to tighten up its privacy standards, which it loosened last week.

Franken, DFL-Minn., joined three other U.S. senators Tuesday to request Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to rescind plans to share more Facebook users' private data on the Web.

"Facebook has changed its rules in midstream," Franken said Tuesday afternoon in a telephone news conference with Minnesota reporters. "It's starting to share people's very personal information with, I guess, whoever they want.

"Everyday, more and more Minnesotans young and old are joining social networking sites like Facebook and these are sites in which people give pretty sensitive information that they intend for their friends -- their names, date and place of birth, where they work, sometimes their sexual orientation, what their political beliefs are, who their friends are," Franken said.

People give information to Facebook because they trust or assume Facebook will use the data to connect them with friends, he said. "It's becoming more and more clear Facebook isn't holding up its end of the bargain."

Franken held a Capital Hill news conference Tuesday with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. Also signing a letter to Zuckerberg was Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The senators said the recent changes by Facebook fundamentally alter the relationship between users and the social networking site. Previously, users had the ability to determine what o adjust its policy so that users' information stays private by default and can only be shared with third parties if the user opts in.

Having built one of the Web's most popular hangouts, Facebook is trying to extend its reach through new tools called "social plug-ins." These enable Facebook's users to share their interests in such products as clothes, movies and music on other websites. For instance, you might hit a button on indicating you like a certain style of jeans, and then recommend a movie on another site. That information about the jeans and the movie might be passed along to other people in your Facebook network, depending on your privacy settings.

Facebook says all this will help personalize the Web for people. It stresses that no personal information is being given to the dozens of websites using the new plug-ins.

Still, it means that information that hadn't been previously communicated could get broadcast to your friends and family on Facebook.

"It's giving more information to third parties and it's keeping it indefinitely," Franken said. "This is now the default. They're forcing users to do an opt-out of this system but not an opt-in. An opt-out is very difficult for many people to do or they don't know about the opt-out."

Minnesotans' personal information needs to be protected, Franken said, adding that is why he joined the other senators.

"We can always legislate this," Franken said if Facebook doesn't change its new policies. "It doesn't matter what the danger is, it's whether the person wants to share (that information) or not.'

The senators also asked the Federal Trade Commission to examine the issue.

Franken is offering steps on how to opt-out of Facebook's new system on his website,

Associated Press contributed to this report.