Monday, January 17, 2011

Facebook now enabling annoying phone calls and paper junk mail?

Sophos points out that Facebook has made yet another change to the way it handles your information: this time, allowing third-party developers access to contact information on Facebook.

Now, part of me wants to just shrug: it's always been technically possible for third party developers to get access to this information because of the current state of web security. It's long been true that anyone who can execute JavaScript in your browser on a site (e.g. every facebook app) can gain access to anything you can see. So if your friend installed FarmVille and you've allowed your friend to see your phone number, FarmVille can see your phone number (and the pictures of you in that horrible halloween costume, and that drunken post you made on your ex's wall...). And if you install FarmVille, they can even more easily glean your phone number and anything else on your profile. What Facebook's doing is in some ways good: they're helping to make this clear to users, and maybe even helping to track who is actually looking at and using that info.

But of course, most people aren't aware that this has always been possible, so they're suddenly envisioning FarmVille sending them paper brochures filled with new crop info, or phoning all their friends to ask why they haven't helped out on the farm lately. Maybe an automated call would help convince you to join the game and seek out that lost kitten?

And maybe those third party apps didn't realize they could do it either, and they're salivating over the extended marketing possibilities. Technically possible doesn't imply endorsed by Facebook the way putting the ability into the API does, so while getting this information might have been in the realm of sketchy scams before, now it's going to be considered a legitimate asset by more companies. After all, you consented when you installed the app. And remember, corporate assets do tend to be about making money, so don't assume they won't sell those lists.

So, while it was technically feasible before, maybe now is a good time to reconsider what data you keep within Facebook. And it's always a good time to re-evaluate which applications you have installed or will install. As always, I recommend that you don't leave anything on facebook you wouldn't want shared with the world, so now's a great time to delete your phone number and address from your facebook profile. And if you don't? Well, don't be too surprised when you start getting texts saying that someone needs help with their FarmVille crops.

1 comment:

Alex said...

They blinked, at least until their PR department can put a bit more spin on it:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/18/following-complaints-facebook-puts-address-and-number-sharing-on-hold/