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Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Facebook Shares a Little More of Your Data

Apps built for Facebook can now access your phone number and home address.

  • January 17, 2011

UPDATE 01/18/2011:

After the negative response Facebook have “temporarily” switched off the new feature, saying on their blog:

“Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data. We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so.”

“We are now making a user’s address and mobile phone number accessible as part of the User Graph object.”

That’s how Facebook’s blog for developers announced that from now on the apps you install to your Facebook profile will be able to access to your phone number and home address. It’s a feature some predict will be misused by spammers. Editor of the site allfacebook.com, Jackie Cohen, said:

“We really hope the social network devises a way to bar the rogues from using this set of code, and if that’s not possible, then perhaps get rid of the entire thing before any damage could be done.”

When you install an app that wants access to your phone number and address a prompt asks a user to verify they want this, but Cohen says most people will click “allow” without realising what they are agreeing to.

Graham Cluely, consultant at computer security firm Sophos, also posted about his concerns, spelling out one possible danger:

“You can imagine, for instance, that bad guys could set up a rogue app that collects mobile phone numbers and then uses that information for the purposes of SMS spamming or sells on the data to cold-calling companies.”

He also said that sharing home addresses could aid identity theft, and suggested that Facebook vet app makers and decide which can be trusted with the new feature.

From Facebook’s perspective, allowing apps to access phone numbers and addresses will make life easier for its users. For example, growing numbers of shopping sites like Amazon’s Soap.com are available as apps that allow you to shop from within Facebook. Being able to grab your phone number and home address could make the experience even more convenient.

For a long time Facebook has steadily encouraged its users to share more about themselves, for example with last month’s profile page redesign. It’s a trend that has been described on this site as edging Facebook towards becoming a driver license for the web, used to verify identity everywhere. However, sociology researcher Zeynep Tufekci at the University of Maryland yesterday tweeted some evidence that users are trying to move in the opposite direction. Her recent survey of 450 people found that four fifths had recently tightened the privacy controls on their account to make their information “less visible”.

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