Facebook and the publishing of mobile contacts scare

Facebook users are once again in a tizzy after having been faced with variations of the following message posted by some of their friends.

Friends! ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS IN YOUR PHONE are now PUBLISHED on Facebook! Go to the top right of the screen, click on Account, then click on Edit Friends, go left on the screen and click on Contacts. Then go to the right hand side and click on “visit page” to remove this display option. Please repost this on your Status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published.

What at first glance might seem like another gross invasion into user privacy and the result of a silent/opt-in-by-default introduction of yet another way of harvesting user information, can actually be pretty easily explained: if you have installed the Facebook mobile app your smartphone and, when asked by Facebook, agreed to sync the contacts on your phone with those in your Facebook account, the two lists have merged.

The good news is that you’re the only user that can see those numbers. The bad news is that Facebook can, too – and that includes the numbers of people who don’t have a Facebook account.

So, according to the NYT, the real losers in all of this are people who have refused to open a Facebook account because they value their privacy and don’t want their information collected by the social network – their name and phone number is now in its hands.

But, it seems to me that there is another problem – you might have previously refused to share your phone number with Facebook, but a friend of yours has synced his phone contacts with his Facebook account – and the social network now has access to it without your knowledge.

Chances are, that piece of information is already out there on the Internet, but if you have made a conscious decision of keeping it out of Facebook, wouldn’t this development irk you?

In any case, if you want to remove the phone numbers from your phone from Facebook, you have only to follow the instructions written in the message on the top. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for keeping your friends from unwittingly sharing information about you.




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