Facebook Halts Plan to Disclose Addresses and Numbers

Following public outcry and security experts’ concerns, Facebook is delaying a plan to allow third party application developers to access users’ contact information, and is working on further enhancements and revisions. Though Facebook spokesperson Jeff Bowen had assured users that the information would only be released if they specifically allowed an application to access it, the negative feedback received in response prompted fellow spokesperson Douglas Purdy to add that the site will try to “make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data”.

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) chair Colin Jacobs criticised Facebook’s move, saying that it was not the act of disclosure but the nature of the information which was problematic. Mr Jacobs observed that though some application developers would use contact information for benign and useful purposes, others might be less scrupulous. Mr Jacobs said that “Facebook apps aren’t vetted or reviewed to weed out the less reputable players, and we can be sure the dodgier operators will be working on ways to masquerade as legitimate”. Consequently, Mr Jacobs suggested that it would be prudent to keep contact information more private, not less. The Age reports that Sophos security expert Graham Cluley has also recommended that users should remove contact information just in case they accidentally allow an application to access it.

Mr Jacobs also warned that though users might be proactive and vigilant about maintaining privacy settings, services like Facebook operate in a dynamic environment and new announcements can “change your risk assessment instantly”.
Facebook’s media release #1 (14 January 2011)
EFA’s media release (17 January 2011)
Facebook’s media release #2 (18 January 2011)
The Age: Remove your home address and mobile phone number from your Facebook: security expert (17 January 2011)

Related news items:
The Guardian: Facebook: Now sharing your home address with developers (17 January 2011)
The Star: Facing up to security issues on Facebook (18 January 2011)
The Age: Facebook halts plan to share contact information with app developers (19 January 2011)
(Source: Facebook; EFA; The Age; The Guardian; The Star)