Facebook to allow 3rd party access to users’ Home Addresses and Phone Numbers

Posted by Bradley Wint on 28/02/2011

Facebook has issued a response to Congressmen Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) letter about their plans to combat privacy concerns when giving out private information to 3rd party apps, including data such as telephone numbers and home addresses.

In a 7 page letter, Marne Levine, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Facebook mentioned many times that users accessing 3rd party apps must first choose whether they want to give access to their information before using the app. If they are uncomfortable with data sharing, they can always reject the terms to avoid data being passed on to the 3rd party. Also, they are making efforts to bring more attention to the categories of data being accessed, so if users are concerned about their phone numbers or addresses being given out.

Even though a time frame wasn’t mentioned for the re-implementation of the additional data fields, it definitely will be coming soon.

Above you can see a sample of the current permissions gateway, highlighting what kind of data you are asked to relinquish to 3rd parties if you use the app. If you don’t want to give it up, then hitting the Don’t Allow button will take you away to the home page.

In the document, they also make mention of those under the age of 13, saying that persons in that category are barred from using the service all together and that all measures are being put in place to make sure they don’t bypass such requirement. With regards to those in the 13-18 bracket, they are considering limiting the passage of any information at all (or maybe limited information) to 3rd parties. If such a measure were to come in place, it could be a major blow for some applications geared towards teenagers.

With regards to users who are already part of applications for which they feel some level of discomfort, users are given total control of their data and if they wish to remove it, they simply have to get rid of the application.

It is unclear what other measures will be put in place for control of data, but I would have liked them to allow users full access to 3rd party apps with another permission gateway asking them whether they want share information or not.

One of the biggest problems with data sharing and this gateway is that many users don’t read the terms and conditions when using applications. They just quickly click through just to get to the program without really paying attention to how much access was granted to their personal information. Also, with so many rogue apps on the market, users could be sucked into joining an app through a false click or some other form of trickery.

There are a number of good app developers who develop legit applications, but users should also be aware that an equally amount of bad apps exist.

With regards to Facebook’s detailed response, Congressmen Markey was happy with their steps to protect its users but reiterated how important it was to protect its younger audience.

“Mobile phone numbers and personal addresses, particularly those that can identify teenagers using Facebook, require special protection,” said Rep. Markey. “We must ensure that this sensitive information is safeguarded, with clear, distinct permissions so that users know precisely what’s in store when they opt to share this data with third parties. Moreover, simple, easily accessible tools are needed so users can rescind these permissions if they subsequently find they no longer want their information in the hands of third parties.

“While permission slips give parents piece of mind, Internet permission ‘slip-ups’ can expose children and teens to dangers online. That’s why it’s critical that Facebook get this right.

“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 look forward to monitoring the company’s work in this area. 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. Facebook has indicated that the feature is still a work in progress, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that sensitive personal user data, especially those belonging to children and teenagers, are protected.”

“Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook, and it is important that the company works as hard at protecting their user’s privacy as they do providing a popular social interaction platform,” said Rep. Barton. “People enjoy the games and applications that Facebook offers, but taking advantage of them shouldn’t jeopardize a user’s privacy. Facebook has a responsibility to their customers not just the third party vendors it associates with. I hope they continue to improve protection of users’ private information.”

If you are unhappy with the move, there are really some simple steps to avoid data loss:

  • Remove all data from your profile which you wish not to share with any 3rd party or anyone else (e.g. phone numbers, addresses, etc.)
  • Do not join applications if you feel uneasy giving 3rd parties access to your personal data.
  • Read the terms and conditions in the permissions box before approving any applications, especially the type of data being accessed.
  • If applications seem suspicious in any way, do not join them and report them for review.
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