Commentary

Facebook's Latest Privacy Flub: Letting App Developers Access Users' Contact Info

Once again, Facebook is rolling out a new feature that seems all but destined to pose privacy problems. Late last week, Facebook announced on its blog that it will make users' addresses and cell phone numbers available to app developers who want that information.

Facebook will show users a screen asking them if they want to grant developers permission to access contact information, but users who decline apparently won't be able to download the apps.

There is a workaround, but it's not clear whether people will want to use it. Users who want to download apps but not share their contact data can simply delete their phone numbers and addresses from their profiles; developers can't scrape that information if it isn't there.

Security firm Sophos says that the social networking service's move "could herald a new level of danger for Facebook users."

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Sophos is advising all Facebook users to remove their phone numbers and addresses now.

"Shady app developers will find it easier than ever before to gather even more personal information from users," the company warns. "You can imagine, for instance, that bad guys could set up a rogue app that collects mobile phone numbers and then uses that information for the purposes of SMS spamming or sells on the data to cold-calling companies."

Should that happen, Facebook will almost certainly face yet another a public relations crisis, though perhaps it will avoid a legal one, given that sites have strong protections when users -- including app developers -- use sites' platforms to commit crimes.

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