Friday, December 04, 2009

Facebook's creepy privacy

Yesterday I received an email from Facebook that I assumed was some sort of scam. In fact, it was totally genuine and I received it because someone I know is using Facebook to promote their business.

Here's the email:

I know three of those people, but the three people in the red box are unknown to me. And the three people I know are not people I am friends with on Facebook. I'm guessing that what happened here is that these people have my email address in their address book. Since I'm a fairly public person it wouldn't be a surprise if they've emailed me at some time in the past, and Facebook has looked in their system to see who had my email address imported and used it to target me.

Now when I first used Facebook I used their system of uploading information from my Google Mail address book to find friends. Little did I know (and I would not have expected) that Facebook would retain that information after I'd used it for the purpose that I gave it to them for, and later use it to tell other people about me.

Digging into the Facebook Privacy document I found the following (I added emphasis):

To make Suggestions. We use your profile information, the addresses you import through our contact importers, and other relevant information, to help you connect with your friends, including making suggestions to you and other users that you connect with on Facebook. If you want to limit your visibility in suggestions we make to other people, you can adjust your search visibility privacy setting, as you will only be visible in our suggestions to the extent you choose to be visible in public search listings. You may also block specific individual users from being suggested to you and you from being suggested to them.

I don't think this is acceptable, it's creepy.

When I imported my address book I assumed it was being done just to help me find people at that moment. I did not assume they were going to store this information for future use and then use it to target other people.


AD627 said...

Yeah - I also worked this out and was similarly surprised. I haven't yet seen a way to stop it, short of cancelling my account.

Nick Barnes said...

I have reason to suspect that not only does Facebook retain all the address books, but it uses them to construct a social network model including numerous people who are not on Facebook. It then suggests contacts using this social network, including friends-of-friends where the intermediate node is not on Facebook. That is, if you and I both have Fred in our address books, Facebook will recommend us to each other even if Fred is not a member.
And yes, it's creepy.

AD627: Cancelling your account is unlikely to help.

steep said...

maybe you need to upgrade to the Facebook described here: