Facebook address-sharing retreat provides further proof of law of unintended consequences
Your Facebook applications will no longer steal your home address or your mobile-phone number. Then again, they weren't going to do that in the first place.
The Palo Alto, Calif., social network hit the pause button on plans announced Friday night to allow third-party applications to request access to that information.
In a blog post time-stamped at 2:25 this morning, Facebook head of developer relations Douglas Purdy wrote that adding this option to a permissions dialog many users unthinkingly click through (as seen in the image at right, from Facebook's earlier post) might not be so wise:
Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data. We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so. [....] We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks.
Too many people see one "is this OK?" dialog and think that they've seen them all--with results visible every time a Facebook friend gets suckered by some spammy application written to spread itself virally across the site. (For the last time, do not click to see the status update that got this girl expelled from school!)
Facebook's management should know better by now, after all of their prior privacy misadventures.
(Post Co. chairman Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors.)
On the other hand, the overreaction to this story also shows a lack of foresight. Headlines like "Facebook Offers App Makers Your Home Address and Phone Number" suggested that users would have no control over this change, when in fact they'd have to allow it.
And suggestions that you respond by removing your mobile number from Facebook, such as Sunday's blog post by the security firm Sophos, miss an important issue: Your mobile number may be your best shot at recovering your account if it gets compromised.
(The Sophos post made a better point when it asked: "Wouldn't it be better if only app developers who had been approved by Facebook were allowed to gather this information?")
I should also note that there's a simpler way to avoid having Facebook applications misuse their data: Don't install them. You may feel like you have to be on the site--you don't--but that doesn't mean you then need to clutter up your profile with a host of third-party add-ons. In this respect, using Facebook is just like using a computer: If you haven't seen an app recommended by a trusted, knowledgeable source, don't install it. If you're not sure, don't install it.
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