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Facebook allows apps access to addresses, mobiles

Home OfficeNews
, 17 Jan 2011News

Popular social networking site Facebook has triggered a privacy furore with the news that it is to allow third-party developers access to its users' mobile phone numbers and home addresses as part of a new platform update.

News of the change to the permissions available to users of the company's API came late Friday via the Facebook Developer Blog, and was met with horror by users and security experts alike - despite reassurances from Facebook that users will be able to keep their details private if they so choose.

The update adds a pair of new permissions that Facebook apps - third-party add-ons that are the Facebook equivalent of smartphone apps, able to add features to a user's Facebook page from simple stat counters to highly involved games such as the popular Farmville - can request from a user: user_address and user_mobile_phone.

As with any other permission available through the Facebook platform, apps have to get the user to OK access - but security experts are warning that scam apps that use social engineering techniques to fool unwary users into granting access will quickly start to abuse the new permissions, leaking users' private details to ne'er-do-wells.

Graham Cluley, of anti-virus and security firm Sophos, warns: "Now, shady app developers will find it easier than ever before to gather even more personal information from users.

"You can imagine, for instance, that bad guys could set up a rogue app that collects mobile phone numbers and then uses that information for the purposes of SMS spamming or sells on the data to cold-calling companies.

"My advice to you is simple: Remove your home address and mobile phone number from your Facebook profile now."

The response to the changes from end-users is scarcely more positive, with users on the microblogging service Twitter stating: "I like how you get no privacy on Facebook anymore," and others suggesting: "Privacy on Facebook is an illusion."

While this latest storm in a privacy teacup is unlikely to dampen Facebook's incredible popularity by much, it may indicate an unsettling trend at the company for treating its developers and advertisers as its primary customers and its users as the commodity to be sold.

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