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Social Networking

Facebook Apps Can Now Access Your Address & Mobile Number

Well, yet another questionable move by Facebook in terms of protecting user information and privacy.  Certainly not a questionable move in terms of monetizing their platform and making it advertiser/corporate friendly, though.  On January 14th Facebook released a new feature for application developers: “We are now making a user’s address and mobile phone number accessible.”

Fantastic. While Facebook does make a gesture towards providing user control of this access (“…because this is sensitive information…these permissions must be explicitly granted to your application by the user via our standard permissions dialogs”) how many people really read through all the “request for permission” yadda yadda yadda when adding a new app?  Probably the same number of people who just click through store bought software EULAs – that is, nearly none.

Also, given Facebook’s rather uninspiring history of private data security breaches and simply making personal info highly available by default, how much confidence should we really have that access to this extremely desirable information will remain secure / tightly user controlled for long?

While I’ve never had my phone number or address on my profile out of general concern for giving companies my personal information unnecessarily, I’m sure there are many people out there who haven’t given it a second though or are a little naive and think it is required information.  Or that it needs to be completed simply because it’s there.  While there is something to be said for personal responsibility in these matters, there’s also a responsibility on the information collecting agency’s part to protect it and, to some degree, act in the user’s  interests in keeping it private and secure.   Rather than, oh I don’t know, say maybe using it as chum by throwing it out into the waters of their app APIs?

Man oh man, the end user control offered by Diaspora can’t come out soon enough for me…

One Comment

  1. Tyler Style 2011-01-19 20:55

    Well, glory be. Yesterday, after a fair amount of hue and cry from Joe public as well as app developers themselves, Facebook graciously announced that they are turning off this feature as “we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so.”

    In the Developer Blog entry, Facebook says that “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.” I can imagine! One developer, David C. Dean, even went so far as to comment “As a developer, I can’t think of a single valid use case for this where an explicit request between two parties (only) isn’t far more appropriate.

    Unfortunately, they’re not considering just yanking the badly thought out feature altogether. Which would be the sensible course of action. Instead this seems to be a delaying tactic while they try to figure out some kind of marketing spin to make this grossly inappropriate data sharing palatable: “We’ll be working to launch these updates as soon as possible, and will be temporarily disabling this feature until those changes are ready. We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks.”

    Thanks… but there is no way Facebook is ever going to convince the majority of users that 1, they have the users best interests at heart in making their mobile phone number and address available to potentially unscrupulous third party app developers, 2, that they are fully capable of securing this data from all breach attempts, despite multiple security breaches in the past, and finally 3, that there is any legitimate reason a Facebook app, running on the INTERNET, really needs your physical, real world mobile number and address for anything other than harvesting marketing data in one way or another to resell or market to you further.

    Go, monetization.

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