Facebook Privacy: Site Backpedals on Phone and Address Sharing Feature

After feeling the heat from security experts and users alike, Facebook removed a controversial new permission field.

Facebook caught a lot of heat this weekend. Last Friday, it announced via its developer blog that it was adding a new request for permission field to its apps.

In addition to accessing your basic information—name, profile picture, gender, network, user ID, list of friends and any other information you've shared with everyone—applications now had the green light to request access to your current address and mobile phone number.

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While the new feature was opt-in, users would need to allow address and phone number sharing before they actually installed the app, and there was no option to allow partial access to information.

The new permission, Facebook says, was intended to help streamline a checkout process with a shopping site or sign up for up-to-the-minute alerts on special deals directly to your mobile phone, for example, but even developers weren't buying it. A number of comments left on the blog were from disgruntled developers who urged Facebook users to remove address and phone number information from their profiles to avoid compromising their information.

Developers weren't alone in their attitudes toward the new feature: Given the prevalence of rogue Facebook applications that lure users with sensational or shocking titles, such as "OMG! 92% of the people who watch this will fall asleep instantly," security experts called the new permissions feature everything from "a recipe for disaster" to "a clear breach in privacy."

[Want more tips, tricks and details on Facebook privacy? Check out CIO.com's Facebook Bible.]

While it was short-sighted of Facebook to expect this change in privacy to go over smoothly (after all, they've been there before), early this morning, Facebook announced it had disabled this feature, according to its blog.

It said:

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’ll be working to launch these updates as soon as possible, and will be temporarily disabling this feature until those changes are ready. We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks.

While it was wise of Facebook to recognize the issue before it got too big, it should have learned by now that thinking through decisions to enact new features, especially given its broken relationship with users in the past, is essential.

Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com.

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