It's Zuck's World We're Just Living In It

How to Explain the Facebook Cellphone Sharing Scandal to Your Norm Friends

mark zuckerberg How to Explain the Facebook Cellphone Sharing Scandal to Your Norm Friends

I'm not a (privacy) crook!

Late last night, while Betabeat was pretty much killing a heartfelt rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit at this janky Chinatown karaoke joint, we got an email from a norm friend. “I know I’m late to everything but did you guys know that Fbook is now publishing your phone numbers and all of your friends. Nit, you should write about it! To make them stop you have to do this . . .” she wrote, followed by a set of instructions you may have seen cropping up on your friends status updates recently.

If you too have a norm in your life in the middle of a privacy freakout, here’s how to explain it to them.

After reading the rumor making the status update rounds, it’s easy to this thing got started:

All the phone numbers in your phone are now published on Facebook! Go to the top right of the screen, click on Account, then click on Edit Friends, go left on the screen and click on Contacts. Then go to the right hand side and click on “visit page” to remove this display option. Please repost this on your Status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published.”

Facebook took the threat of appearing, once again, like a privacy weasel seriously, posting this response on the Facebook fan page explaining that (1) this feature nothing new and (2) you did it to yourself:

“Rumors claiming that your phone contacts are visible to everyone on Facebook are false,” the company wrote. “Our Contacts list, formerly called Phonebook, has existed for a long time. The phone numbers listed there were either added by your friends themselves and made visible to you, or you have previously synced your phone contacts with Facebook. Just like on your phone, only you can see these numbers.

A quick perusal of Betabeat’s Contacts page shows the phone numbers for only a small fraction of our friends, so, at least at first, it appeared fairly innocuous. CNET found something similar, writing “Many but not all of my Facebook friends’ phone numbers–both mobile and sometimes home–are listed.” CNET also gives a rundown of how to permanently delete your phone number from Facebook.

So that should be it, right? The Facebook app counts on users to blindly clicking ‘yes’ on a pop-up asking you to synch your contacts and a bunch of members who volunteer their numbers to populate your Contacts page. Misleading, sure. Creepy, a little. But it’s not the same as “All the phone numbers in your phone are now published on Facebook!”

Well not exactly.

IT World’s Dan Tynan had a very different, much more unsettling  experience when he checked out his Contacts page.

Most if not all of the contacts inside my mobile phone are now listed in Facebook – as well as numbers for things like the pizza joint down the street, which doesn’t have a Facebook page.

It gets weirder. There are also people whom I do not know, who are not in my Android phone’s contact list, with whom I share no connection whatsoever and have no friends in common, who are in my Facebook phone book. Now Facebook is asking if I want to friend them. I have no idea why.

And some of them are minors.

Wait, it gets weirder still. As regular readers of TY4NS may remember, I have a few Facebook alias accounts that I use for testing. None of these have their own cell phones or contact lists, so I never imported any contacts to them. Yet these accounts also display the phone numbers of everyone in their respective friends’ lists. So despite what Facebook’s contacts page says, this has nothing to do with using Facebook’s mobile app.

Okay now we feel like a norm. Zuck, care to explain what’s going on here?

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com