It is what seems to be a typical Facebook move. Halfway through January Facebook announced it would be “making a user’s address and mobile phone number accessible as part of the User Graph object”. Which meant no less than “we are giving away your phone numbers and addresses”.
The enormous amount of criticism around the world Facebook pulled back the option just one day later. They didn’t say they would not be doing it all, they just postponed it. And Facebook will do shortly what it has always done in situations like this. It will bring back a slightly adjusted feature. A letter to Congressmen Markey and Barton suggests that.
The letter (find the pdf here) explains in broad terms how Facebook works (a user has to give permission, they are allowed to ‘back out’ and an application is subject to technical limitations).
An interesting fact in the letter is that Facebook tells the congressmen that Facebook sees a 3% reduction in click-through rate on application requests when an application is asking too much information.
All of this is a build up to the important part: Facebook says it is asking users for its permission, using the standard “Request for Permission” screens, therefore they are doing nothing wrong.
In the letter they answer questions from the congressmen about the security of data. In these answers they make a couple of interesting remarks:
“Once the feature is re-enabled”: which means they will be bringing it back
“We are currently evaluating methods to further enhance user control in this area”: they are working on something, most probably additional permission screens, but how long will that take..?
Very interesting is the answer to the question “Please describe the process that led Facebook to decide to suspend the roll out of this feature”. Did you know that the ability of users to exercise control over their information was a foundational principle of Facebook…?
In a statement Congressman Markey told Cnet that he is not happy with the answers:
“I don’t believe that applications on Facebook should get this information from teens, and I encourage Facebook to wall off access to teen’s contact information if they enable this new feature,” Markey said. “Facebook has indicated that the feature is still a work in progress, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that sensitive personal user data, especially those belonging to children and teenagers, are protected.”
To be continued without a doubt. But you can be sure of one thing. Sooner or later Facebook will indeed roll out this feature.