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Facebook determined to provide access to users' personal details

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5th Mar 2011
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Despite a privacy outcry, Facebook is pressing ahead with controversial plans to provide ecommerce sites and third party developers with access to users' home addresses and phone numbers.

The social networking site initially mentioned its new policy in a post on its developer blog in January, which was opaquely entitled 'Platform Updates: New User Object fields, Edge.remove Event and More', but suspended the proposals pending a review after privacy campaigners, users and even US lawmakers were up in arms.

But in response to a letter written by US congressmen Edward Markey and Joe Barton expressing concern about the move, Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president of global public policy, wrote in his own missive to them earlier this week: "We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorise application to obtain their contact information."

He added that the vendor was currently evaluating "methods to further enhance user control" by implementing functionality that would more explicitly highlight the personal nature of the data being passed on to third parties. It was also “actively considering” whether to restrict under-18s from sharing their contact information, Levine said.

But privacy experts warned that the policy could make users' more open to scams, spam and identity theft.

Norman Sadeh-Koniecpol, a professor at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, told the Huffington Post: "[Scammers] might be able to impersonate you if they had your phone number. 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 it for malicious purposes. In fact, you don't know who you're dealing with."

Mary Hodder, chairman of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, was also unhappy with the move. "People never thought when they were posting this data that it would be accessible to anyone but friends," she said. "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, you data is public'. I feel badly for users that Facebook's approach is 'you give us everything and it's all fair game'."

But Facebook told the Huffington Post in response: "Despite some rumours, there's no way for other websites to access a user's address or phone number from Facebook. For people that may find this option useful in the future, we're considering ways to let them share this information (for example, to use an online shopping site without always having to re-type their address.)"

As a result, users would "always be in control" of what Facebook information they shared with third party applications and web sites, the statement added.

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