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Facebook's Former Privacy Chief Criticizes 'Instant Personalization'

Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly, now running for California Attorney General, wants voters to know he's no fan of the company's new "instant personalization."

That much-criticized feature automatically shares users' names, photos, friend lists and other information if they visit the sites of outside companies while logged in to Facebook. At launch the companies in the program were Microsoft Docs, Pandora and Yelp.

Users can opt out, but privacy advocates as well as lawmakers like Sen. Chuck Schumer have said that Facebook shouldn't share people's information with unrelated companies unless users explicitly consent.

Kelly indicates on his blog that he agrees with the critics. "I strongly encourage Facebook to structure all its programs to allow Facebook users to give permission before their information is shared with third parties," Kelly writes.

He adds that Facebook implemented its new policies after he left the company. What's more, he says, he won't hesitate to prosecute his former employer if the company does something unlawful. "When I am Attorney General, Facebook, like every company, will have to comply with its obligations to adhere to the law, provide truthful information to consumers and to keep its promises about their privacy rights."

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Kelly served as chief privacy officer during another Facebook privacy fiasco -- the Beacon ad program, which automatically told users about their friends' ecommerce activity -- but it was never clear how much influence Kelly had over CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Regardless, Kelly's post indicates that Facebook's privacy-hostile decisions have become a political liability. It also shows that Kelly is concerned that ordinary voters -- and not just academics or "elitists" -- care about their online privacy.

But more than anything, the fact that a former company executive is now condemning Facebook shows just how far over the line the site is with its new instant personalization feature.

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