Facebook is reportedly moving forward with plans to provide third-party developers and external websites with access to the home addresses and cellphone numbers of its members.
The social networking site originally announced the feature in its Developer Blog in January only to incur serious public outcry over security concerns. Within three days of the announcement, Facebook suspended the feature until the hype died down, only to reintroduce it today.
In response to January’s announcement, Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) sent Facebook execs a letter expressing their concern.
Facebook reaffirmed it would indeed be allowing third parties to request access to users’ address and phones numbers.
The motivation behind Facebook’s move is the enormous amount of cash marketers and third-party websites will pay the site for the pressure information. It’s all part of Facebook’s bigger plan to become a viable marketing channel for businesses.
Facebook added that it is considering implementing controls that would make it more clear to the masses that their personal information is being shared. The site is "actively considering" whether to restrict users under 18 from sharing their content with third-party developers.
"We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorize applications to obtain their contact information," Facebook's Marne Levine, vice president of global public policy, wrote in the letter to Reps. Markey and Barton.
"[H]owever, we are currently evaluating methods to further enhance user control in this area."
With such a wealth of information embedded into the social networking site, it becomes a much higher up target for scammers and thieves hoping to mine personal information. Though Facebook prohibits applications from selling users’ information or sharing it with others, phishing scams and malicious apps are not at all uncommon.
"[Scammers] might be able to impersonate you if they had your phone number," said Norman Sadeh-Koniecpol, a professor at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science.
"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."
Others, such as Mary Hodder, chairman of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, expressed concern over the lack of transparency on the site.
"People never thought when they were posting this data [such as their phone numbers] that it would be accessible to anyone but friends. 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.'"
Meanwhile, Rep. Markey offered a follow-up comment, stating: "I'm 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."
"I'm also encouraged that Facebook is deciding whether to allow applications on the site to request contact information from minors. I don't believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teen's contact information if they enable this new feature."
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