Does Facebook have your cell phone number – and those of your friends?

I’m beginning to get a little put out with Facebook.  It seems that every so often I learn a little more about information that they collect that I thought was private, even though Facebook tells me that I have control over what I share.  I wonder if some of my friends on Facebook, some of whom are very well-known people who don’t want things like their cellphone number shared with all of their friends (even me), are aware that I have their phone numbers.  Elected officials especially should beware. More about that below.

This came to my attention in a blog post by Emil Protalinkski on zdnet.com.  It’s entitled How Facebook got your phone number (and how to take it back).  Here’s a part of the blog post:

So if Facebook didn’t take your number by force, when did you give it to the social network? You could have put it in manually (Edit My Profile => Contact Information => Phones). If this is the way you added it, then this is also the way you should remove it. If you’d rather keep your phone number on Facebook, you can instead restrict who sees it (Account => Privacy Preferences => Customize settings => Contact Information => Your number). You have the following options to choose from: Everyone, Friends of Friends and Networks, Friends and Networks, Friends of Friends, Friends Only (this is what I have mine set to), and Customize (which lets you drill down to specific people).

The other possibility is that you have installed the Facebook Mobile app on your smartphone at some point. After doing so, there was an option to sync your phone contacts with Facebook. This allows you to call Facebook friends without knowing their number as well as seeing their Facebook profile picture when you call them or they call you. This is possible because Facebook compares the number you have for your friend Joe Smith with the number Joe Smith has on Facebook.

I checked this out by going to my Account tab and then clicking on “edit friends.” When I then clicked on “Contacts” I was presented with a list of my contacts AND THEIR MOBILE TELEPHONE NUMBERS.  Or at least the mobile telephone numbers of those who apparently have the Facebook app on their smartphones.  To some people this may not be a big deal.  But being in the business that I am in I have a lot of friends who are elected officials, and I’ll bet they did not know that they were giving me their mobile numbers when they added me as a friend – especially the members of Congress.

Speaking of Congress, this is the kind of stuff that Congress needs to be aware of as they research and evaluate the pros and cons of what is shared on the Internet.  And yes I know that I gave Facebook permission (legally, but unknowingly) to publicize my mobile number to my friends.  What I did not know was that I would have to drill down through several layers to be aware that I gave that permission. What Congress should know now is that Facebook itself also has those mobile numbers now.

Gotta go now.  I need to update my iPhone, and to accept the update I have to agree to 68 pages of conditions.

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