Posted January 17, 2011 9:05 am by with 5 comments

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Ahh, Facebook. You’ve just helped Sony Pictures win a bunch of Golden Globes for their sensational betrayal portrayal of the start of Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. The lasting impression of the movie comes from a line by Zuck’s then girlfriend, Erica Albright (hat tip to TechCrunch)

You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

Memories. Good times.

Well, fast forward many years later and the world is dealing with actions like the latest one from Facebook that might verify Ms. Albright’s assessment. All Facebook reports about the latest development for developers that can make your mobile number and address part of the data you hand over (and most will because they don’t pay attention!)

Facebook has put in a lot of effort to getting users to enter their mobile numbers. But now the social network is giving developers access to numbers in addition to home addresses with a single click. Is this just trouble waiting to happen?

The timing of the post couldn’t have been more questionable — just as most people were leaving work on the west coast and Facebook employees were beginning their weekly happy hour at Cafe 6. Granted, the company’s job is to make this post appear as though it’s just another day at the social network, in an effort to play down the significance of this new functionality. Over the weekend a number of publications began discussing the issue, the most sensational of which comes from Sophos, which writes “Rogue Facebook apps can now access your home address and mobile phone number.”

The Facebook Developer’s blog post occurred in that classic late Friday slot that everyone uses to bury the news they really don’t want anyone to know but can point to later and say “We told you that!”.

User Address and Mobile Phone Number
We are now making a user’s address and mobile phone number accessible as part of the User Graph object. Because this is sensitive information, we have created the new user_address anduser_mobile_phone permissions. These permissions must be explicitly granted to your application by the user via our standard permissions dialogs.

The box that users will see will look like this.

Of course, Facebook and developers alike are banking on the Pavlovian response of most of Facebook’s great unwashed (those who are clueless about how Facebook plays loose with their privacy) to push the blue button without really paying attention to what they are doing. That’s a nice touch. Deviant but nice.

So when does this kind of stuff become disturbing enough for people to turn away from Facebook? Are we so far down this path that there may not another competitor to come along and do something that is a compromise between what advertisers need and what is prudent for users?

Is it the scale that Facebook has achieved that forces them to do this kind of thing and make it look like some back alley deal? Are there such great pressures to live up the valuation that now we will see greater and greater moves toward totally disregarding online privacy and safety?

So many questions and so few answers. Maybe I’ll put a poll up on Facebook!

  • Leave it to Facebook … privacy is like a four letter word over there. Dave

  • Facebook just continues to stomp all over privacy rights and yet continues to grow more rich and more powerful. There certainly hasn’t been any motivation for them to change tactics.

  • We could look at this the other way too. Now would be a good time to start advertising on Facebook. I bet they could really help you sell some stuff. Maybe they next needed information will be your credit card number and there will be an allow button to buy things directly. Do you think its really that far off?

    • @Ted – If it will make money to justify the valuation Facebook will do it. Whether you are aware of it is a different story altogether.

  • These guys have no soul. The only time they do what’s right is when they are absolutely shamed into it.