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Facebook to share users’ phone numbers, addresses

March 5, 2011

Daily Mail, 2 March 2011: Facebook is going full steam ahead with their controversial plan to allow third party developers access to users’ home addresses and mobile phone numbers.

This comes despite the fact the plans were shelved last month due to so much criticism and concerns over violation of privacy.

The potential consequences of such a move also attracted attention from Congressmen Edward Markey and Joe Barton, as well as privacy experts and users.

External websites and third-party developers will be able to access the information via the permissions menu to which users must agree before installing an app.

Facebook quietly announced the plans in a note posted to its Developer Blog in January, but it suspended it only three days later due to user outcry with a promise it would ‘re-enable an improved feature in the next few weeks’.

In response to a letter penned by Markey and Barton expressing concern over the new functionality, Facebook reaffirmed that it will be allowing third parties to request access to users’ addresses and phone numbers but said they will make it more obvious that information will be shared.

They also revealed that they are ‘actively considering’ whether to restrict users under 18 years old from sharing their contact information with third parties.

In the letter to Markey and Barton, Facebook’s Marne Levine said: ‘We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorize applications to obtain their contact information.

‘However, we are currently evaluating methods to further enhance user control in this area.’

In the letter from Levine, which was released today, she said Facebook decided to suspend the program due to ‘some initial user feedback’.

After reviewing the feedback, they determined that ‘we might be able to increase the visibility of these categories of data in the permissions screen, and we decided to suspend the feature pending that review’.

Mr Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he is ‘pleased that Facebook’s response indicated that it’s looking to enhance its process for highlighting for users when they are being asked for permission to share their contact information’.

He encouraged Facebook to ‘wall off access to teen’s contact information if they enable this new feature’.

Facebook is open to anyone aged 13 and over.

Barton, a Texas Republican, said that ‘people enjoy the games and applications that Facebook offers, but taking advantage of them shouldn’t jeopardize a user’s privacy.

‘Facebook has a responsibility to their customers not just the third party vendors it associates with. I hope they continue to improve protection of users’ private information.’

Privacy experts warn that the access of such information could vastly increase the risk of being targeted by scams, spam and identity thieves.

Professor at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science Norman Sadeh-Koniecpol told the Huffington Post: ‘Scammers might be able to impersonate you if they had your phone number.

‘They’re saying, “Please give us your phone number”, but they’re not telling you whether they’ll share it or whether they’ll sell it or use if for malicious purposes. In fact, you don’t know who you’re dealing with.’

Concerns have also been raised as to how many times Facebook has changed the rules since it was set up.

First they encouraged people to share personal information with a more limited group of friends, now they are allowing that data to be accessed in new, unexpected ways.

Mary Hodder, chairman of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, said: ‘People never thought when they were posting this data that it would be accessible to anyone but friends.

Privacy settings: Even if you have set your page up in the ‘Friends Only’ option, third parties will be able to access your information when you download new apps

‘There’s a real mismatch of expectations around that. Even if Facebook comes back with new protections, they’re still saying, “Hey, get over it, your data is public”.

‘I feel sad for users that Facebook’s approach is “You give us anything and it’s all fair game”.’

Users are outraged that Facebook is once again taking liberties over their personal information and have voiced their concerns on internet forums.

Ktrose 777 said: ‘Facebook this is unethical, please stop now.’

Wendy Weise said: ‘This is wrong on so many levels. I don’t want phone calls from spammers, scammers and solicitors .

‘One of the beauties of no land line is the absence of telemarket ers, surveyors and especially election time blitz of robocalls.

‘ What’s your address and phone number, Zuckerberg?’

Twiddle 723 wrote: ‘I’ll delete my Facebook account if they really plan on doing this. What an invasion of privacy. I thought the internet was all about anonymity?’

Many others have promised to boycott Facebook and turn to another site if the plans went ahead, though others simply comment that personal information should simply be removed from the site.

A Facebook spokesman said: ‘There’s no way for other websites to access a user’s address or phone number from Facebook.

‘For people that may find this option useful in the future, we’re considering ways to let them share this information.

‘People will always be in control of what Facebook information they share with apps and websites.’


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