The House Committee on Energy and Commerce asks in an open letter if Facebook users have been misled about the personal data that could be disclosed by joining closed groups

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Lawmakers are seeking to question Facebook about its privacy practices after allegations that the service revealed sensitive health information in groups.

In a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, filed last month and released yesterday, a security researcher and health advocates said the company was not protecting its confidential data. The complaint followed an incident that occurred last year when members of a group of women with a gene mutation called BRCA learned that information such as names and email addresses could be accessed from closed groups.

Since, Facebook has removed the opportunity to collect this information, but has denied the existence of a flaw in security and has raised the possibility of creating "secret" groups less discoverable. The complaint argued that, despite the change, the personal information was still too accessible to people belonging to sensitive groups.

Whether Facebook is "potentially misled"

Now, a letter from legislators of the House of Commons Energy and Commerce Committee wonders if Facebook users have been "potentially misled" about the data they would reveal by joining a closed group. The letter, addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, raises the question of whether the company "may have failed to properly warn members of the group that personal health information may have been accessed by companies in the group. Medicare and bullies online, among others ". The letter requests a staff briefing on the issues raised in the complaint.

"Facebook is not an anonymous platform; the real identity is at the center of the experience and has always been," said a Facebook spokesman in a statement. . "It's deliberately clear to people that when they join a Facebook group, other members of the group can see that they are part of that community and see the messages they choose to share." with this community, to know who you're talking to in a group, and we look forward to informing the committee about this. "

The company would be negotiating with the FTC about a potentially huge fine for confidentiality issues.

"In view of the Committee's ongoing commitment to protecting the privacy of the American people, we are asking our staff for an information session on the issues raised by the complaint by March 1, 2019". the letter, "in order to better understand Facebook's practices. with regard to the so-called closed and anonymous groups. "

Updated, 8:55 pm ET: Includes a statement from Facebook's spokesperson.