Facebook To Stop Recommending Friends Based On Phone Numbers Offered For Security

Facebook will stop making friend suggestions to users based on phone numbers provide for security, the company confirmed Thursday.

“Based on feedback from the privacy and security communities, we have started updating our two-factor authentication feature so that phone numbers people add here won't be used to suggest friends,” a spokesperson said.

The company is in the process of ceasing the practice this week in five countries -- Ecuador, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Libya and Cambodia -- and will do so worldwide next year, according to Reuters, which first reported the move.

It recently came to light that Facebook used the phone numbers that people provided for security for other purposes -- including targeted advertising, and its “people you may know” feature, which suggests friends.

Privacy advocates criticized Facebook's use of that data for functions other than security, arguing that the company shouldn't collect information for one reason and then use it for a different, unrelated reason.

“Add 'a phone number I never gave Facebook for targeted advertising' to the list of deceptive and invasive ways Facebook makes money off your personal information,” the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote last year in a post criticizing Facebook for drawing on data in unexpected ways.

Facebook promised in July to stop targeting ads based on phone numbers that users submitted for security purposes, as part of its $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

If approved by a judge, that settlement will resolve allegations that Facebook violated a 2012 consent decree by failing to honor its privacy representations to users. The FTC's complaint against Facebook lists several ways Facebook allegedly violated that decree, including by gathering phone numbers for security but then using them for advertising.

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